Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd
Plenary - Fifth Senedd01/05/2019
The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
I call Members to order.
The first item on our agenda this afternoon is questions to the Minister for Education, and the first question, Darren Millar.
1. Will the Minister provide an update on educational standards in Welsh schools? OAQ53770
Thank you, Darren. Estyn’s 2017-18 annual report shows that standards are 'good' or 'better' in just over eight in 10 primary schools, and remain 'good' or 'better' in half of secondary schools. I am committed to the reforms as outlined in 'Our national mission', which will give all of our children an equal opportunity to reach their full potential and see excellence in all of our schools.
Will you join me in congratulating Ysgol y Foryd on its five 'excellents'—Ysgol Y Foryd in Kinmel Bay, in my own constituency, which I visited over the Easter recess? It's an excellent school. But, of course, it's achieving that in spite of the significant financial challenges that schools are facing across Conwy and north Wales at the moment. You will know that, as a result of the Welsh Government's current funding arrangement with the UK Government, £1.20 is available to spend on children here, in terms of their education, for every £1 spent on a pupil in England, and yet the reality is that there is a significant funding gap in terms of the per pupil spend per year. What action is the Welsh Government taking to close that funding gap so that other schools can achieve the excellence that's available to children who are pupils at Ysgol Y Foryd?
Well, could I congratulate the staff, pupils and governors of the school in your constituency? Perhaps the Member would be kind enough to ask me to visit the school so I can see for myself, obviously, the high standards that are being achieved. Let's be absolutely clear: independent studies show that the funding gap between English and Welsh schools has closed and is barely negligible. Of course, we could put more money into front-line education services if we had a better deal from the Westminster Government. For instance, on the issue of the teachers' pension scheme, and increases to the TPS, which is of a huge concern to many in the profession, only 80 per cent of the resources to cover the rise in the cost of teachers' pensions has been provided from the Westminster Government, and the Welsh Government has had to find that additional 20 per cent so that we can pay for the teachers' pension rises in full.
The new curriculum has the potential to transform the learning experiences of our children and young people, but I am shocked to think that it also has the potential of failing entirely. The life of every school is very busy on a day-to-day basis and is filled chock-full with challenges, and a lot of time is spend dealing with cuts in budgets that are shrinking. Now, you've suggested that there will be one additional in-service training day per year, but surely that isn't enough to create the huge transformation required with the new curriculum. So, how do you expect schools to create the necessary space to achieve that transformation and to train their staff properly without the Government here increasing school budgets?
Well, of course, we are currently out to consultation on the proposals to provide an additional INSET day for schools in preparation for the implementation of the curriculum, which will be statutory from 2022. Of course, schools already have a number of INSET days, which they can use to help prepare for the implementation of the curriculum. With regard to resources to allow professional development to be undertaken, the Member will be aware that this Government has made available £24 million direct to headteachers' budgets for the professional development of their staff, and that's the largest single investment in professional learning in the 20 years since this institution was created.
2. Will the Minister make a statement on guidance given to local education authorities regarding ensuring that there is sufficient time in the school day to meet the health and well-being needs of pupils? OAQ53777
Thank you, Caroline. 'Our national mission' places well-being at the heart of our new curriculum, ensuring it permeates throughout the whole school day. The development of a whole-school approach to emotional and mental well-being will also help promote a culture where all school staff are responsible for supporting their learners.
Thank you, Minister. I'm not sure if you're aware, but Nottage Primary School in Porthcawl are proposing to change their school day to align with the comprehensive school. In order to achieve this, without reducing teaching time, the proposals call for reducing playtime by 40 minutes and only allowing one 10-minute comfort break. Minister, do you agree with me that reducing play and limiting toilet breaks will have an adverse effect upon the health and well-being of the children?
I am aware of the proposals of Nottage school in Bridgend county. The organisation of the school day, indeed, the school week, is a matter for individual headteachers and their governing bodies. But any changes to the organisation of the school day should be undertaken in full consultation with parents, and, clearly, the health and well-being needs of children should be duly considered in those changes.
Minister, do you agree with me that one group of children and young people in our schools who are particularly vulnerable are young carers and that they need extra time and support with appropriate staff to help them to both achieve what they can do academically, but also to have time to simply be a child? I share some of the concerns, because, for young carers, being at school is often a rest. You go to school and you can be a child, you can play. I have some concerns that the shortening of the school day, particularly for very young carers—and we know that children as young as six can be taking part in caring activities—could restrict young carers' abilities to have that time to be a child in school.
There are steps that you can take, perhaps in conjunction with the Deputy Minister for social services, to ensure that, as schools are making these proposed changes, they do consider the needs of this particularly vulnerable group of children and young people.
Thank you, Helen Mary. You are absolutely right to draw the Chamber's attention to the specific needs of carers within our educational system and to ensuring that our educators and schools and colleges are attuned to the sometimes very simple things that they can do to make school and college easier for those young people to fully participate and reach their full potential.
The issue around the organisation of school days is often associated with the issue of an asymmetric week. Members will be aware that the Public Policy Institute for Wales carried out research into the asymmetric school week, which often does lead to the curtailing, potentially, of either break times or lunch times. Actually, in those instances, it was reported that, sometimes, a shorter lunch break actually assisted the well-being of children because it cut down opportunities for bullying and some of the issues associated with long periods outside without the direct supervision of staff. But, of course, that's not necessarily applicable to the issue of carers.
The Member, I'm sure, will be aware that I have asked Estyn particularly to do a strategic review into what more we can do within the education system to ensure that that group of learners reach their full potential and, as I said, that the profession know how best to support them.
Minister, health and well-being goes beyond school. We also need to look at further education colleges and colleges post 16 as well, where there is not necessarily a compulsory time. But participation in competitive sport and other non-competitive physical activities can help schools and colleges to ensure that there are ample opportunities for learners to be aware of their own individual health and well-being agendas.
Will you join me in congratulating Wales's FE colleges, who on the weekend achieved success in the Association of Colleges Sport National Championships in Nottingham, competing in over 14 different competitions? And perhaps you will pledge to help to ensure Sport Wales, in conjunction with Welsh Colleges Sport continue to deliver a range of new, enjoyable activities to provide health and fitness opportunities for the 45,000 post-16 learners studying in FE colleges in Wales.
Well, thank you, David, for reminding of us of that tremendous effort on behalf of the students in our FE colleges the length and breadth of Wales and their success in representing their colleges and, indeed, representing Wales in those games. I know from discussions with colleagues in FE that they are committed to providing a broad and balanced curriculum in FE colleges that allows students to pursue not only their academic or vocational studies, but to be able to participate in an entire range of extra-curricular activities, including sport, but also drama, music and creative pursuits. And, as you know, David, the FE sector is one of the strengths of the Welsh education system, and this recent sporting success just compounds what we know—that the FE colleges in Wales are performing very well indeed.
Questions now from the party spokespeople. The Conservative spokesperson, Suzy Davies.
Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. Minister, can I just begin by thanking you for facilitating the briefing on the new curriculum yesterday, which Lynne Neagle organised? I think the overriding impression I've had at this stage is that this wholesale change of philosophy and culture is going to take some time to grasp and convert into real-life lesson plans, especially as schools, of course, will have to be delivering two sets of school curricula at the same time, on squeezed budgets, for some time. But, just because it's difficult doesn't mean that we shouldn't do it, and while I might feel the same about funding formula, perhaps we can leave that for another day.
I'm a one-nation Conservative, so I believe in co-production, big society and empowered individuals taking on personal responsibility as well as being under a duty to empower those around them. And so I will support the aims of a curriculum that helps raise young people who are resilient, compassionate problem solvers who recognise the imperative to contribute their talents to society as well as their taxes to the state. But they will also need a depth of subject knowledge based not just on their own experiences and choices. This is not a content-based curriculum—that was repeated a number of times yesterday—but it will have content based to a significant degree on staff and pupil choice. How will this proliferation of content be quality controlled?
Well, first of all, can I say I'm glad that the Member found the briefing yesterday useful? And could I also share her thanks to Lynne Neagle, the Chair of the Children, Young People and Education Committee, who helped facilitate that briefing? I'm grateful to all the Members from the committee and, indeed, beyond the committee who took the time to come and listen to the presentations yesterday with regard to the new curriculum?
I think it is really important to recognise that the curriculum is not devoid of knowledge. It is a curriculum that builds on knowledge, skills and the experiences that I believe children and young people in Wales will need to ensure that, when they leave school, they will go on to live successful personal lives and will be able to contribute successfully to the nation.
With regard to quality control, obviously there are assessment arrangements that were also published yesterday, which demonstrate where we would expect a child to be in relation to the six areas of learning and experience broadly at stages throughout their educational career. And, of course, we will continue to assess those children via our innovative online assessment regimes, as well as a teacher assessment. And, of course, the overall policy of the curriculum experience will be underpinned by our accountability regime—the individual accountability of teachers, the role of governors, the role of our regional consortia or as our school improvement service and, ultimately, of course, Estyn, which will be visiting schools more often under our new regime than they currently do presently, and they will be there to look at ensuring that the curriculum that is being delivered is one of high quality.
Well, thank you for that answer. I think it's actually quite a difficult question to answer outside the traditional world in terms of monitoring and assessment that you've just explained. I actually quite welcome the idea that it's going to be a more varied curriculum, but how to keep tabs on that I think is going to prove quite difficult. And how those links work over the next few years I think is going to be pretty important, because I think it would be fair to say that every new system will have its bedding-in period, even with the less demanding changes that we've seen in the made-in-Wales qualifications recently in moving some children from BTECs to GCSEs, and I know why you did that. We have seen some confusion about how to benchmark standards. Obviously, Qualifications Wales has the main role here, but I would like your view on how we are going to avoid prejudicing the transitional guinea pig cohort of learners—if I can call them that—who are going to be taught by teachers who may have had the CPD but have had no actual experience of teaching the curriculum these first few years. Because we did see casualties when we switched from the grammar to the comprehensive system all those years ago, before the new system bedded in. And I just want to make sure, as I'm sure you do, that you don't want to see that risk repeated.
The link between the new curriculum and what qualifications look like is still very unclear to me. So, how will you help learners and professionals protect standards and achievement in this transition period so that they're not compromised in the eyes of FEs, HEs and employers in the future who will have huge influence over a learner's post-16 choices?
Well, Suzy, the first step that we are taking to ensure that children's life chances are not compromised was the decision that I made previously to roll out the curriculum over a number of years, especially in the secondary sector. It would have been unimaginable, indeed unthinkable, to think about changing the curriculum during a child's maybe crucial year 10 or year 11 period of study. And that's why you will be aware that the curriculum will begin to be rolled out in our secondary schools in 2022 in year 7, and will follow that cohort through.
With regard to a bedding-in period, you will be aware, again, that I took the quite difficult decision to delay the implementation of the curriculum, having listened to teachers who told me very clearly that they would need more time to prepare themselves and get ready. So, we had the draft published yesterday. This is now a period of genuine feedback for people to engage—not just the teaching profession, but also the employers, the colleges, the universities that you talked about so that they can feed back to us also. The final curriculum will be published in January of next year, thus giving schools, again, a significant period of time before it becomes statutory before they have to deliver it so that they can truly engage in it.
You will be aware that, throughout this process, Qualifications Wales have been deeply embedded. They have already begun their work on the implications for end of year 11 examinations, as a result of the changes to the curriculum. They are very clear in their advice to me that the GCSE brand is a strong brand—it is well understood by parents, pupils, employers, further education and higher education and they expect GCSEs to remain, but clearly the content may need to change. And we will continue to work with the independent body, Qualifications Wales, to ensure that the currency of those examinations will give Welsh students and young people a passport into the world of work and into the world of study, whether they do that in Wales or whether they choose to do that somewhere else.
Thank you for those answers. Yes, I've spoken to Qualifications Wales myself about this and I am still unclear about what it is that will be examined in approximately seven years' time in a GCSE. I appreciate that, in the period in between, we might get some clarity on that, but I still do have concerns about those individual teachers who start in year seven, and, even if they're with the same children until year 11 or 12, they will have had no prior experience of teaching this. That's why I asked this question about will there be some kind of—I don't want to call it 'special arrangements', but breathing space for the children who are caught up in the process in its first seven years.
I just want to move on now, still with the curriculum: Welsh Government often invites us to look at international comparators and I'm sure that we'll be invited to do so again, quite rightly, during the debates on removing the defence of reasonable punishment. Professor Donaldson's proposals were inspired by the experience of other countries—as we know, not least some of those were in Scandinavia—and we've had the chance to see them in practice, closer to home, in Scotland. Now, the Scotland experience hasn't been without its problems and you have reassured us, Minister, on more than one occasion that you've learned lessons from Scotland to avoid their mistakes. Recently, Scotland has learnt from its own mistakes. All of its councils have instructed their schools to teach CPR on the secondary school curriculum. It is compulsory on the curriculum in 20 per cent of European countries, including Norway and Denmark—Scandinavian countries—and in Sweden, where it's not, guess what, the chances of surviving a cardiac arrest outside a hospital setting are lower than in the rest of Scandinavia. Even America is on the ball now, with this training being compulsory in 36 states. If you are prepared to learn lessons from Scotland, why won't you learn this one?
Let me begin my saying that life-saving skills and emergency first-aid procedures are clearly incredibly important, and I am very keen to raise awareness of those skills. I would encourage everyone to learn first aid, whether they are schoolchildren or indeed have left school. But it is for the schools themselves to decide if and how best to provide first-aid learning and those opportunities within the curriculum.
As you'll be aware from the briefing yesterday, the curriculum does include the new area of learning and experience of health and well-being—an AoLE that has been broadly welcomed by all who have given feedback to date and there will be ample opportunity within that AoLE for these subjects to be taught in schools.
As you may have seen over the weekend, Buzzfeed reported that the UK Government was considering abolishing home fee status for EU nationals studying in England post 2021. I understand that the current Welsh Government position protects the current situation up until 2019-20 academic year here in Wales, and we, as a party, would support that. But, just in the interest of continuity and clarity, can you confirm if the Welsh Government will not abolish home status and financial support for EU students post 2020?
The Member is quite correct—we have confirmed that we will continue to provide tuition fee support to students from the EU who start their studies in the 2019-20 academic year. I would like very much to clarify the position for 2020-21, but I am unable to confirm until we have a clear position from the UK Government on the provision of loans.
Okay, thank you very much for that. And if I could ask for when you think, in your deliberations with the UK Government, you will be able to get that confirmation—from a previous response that you've given, I think it was to the education committee, you said it was because of Treasury rules. So, I'm understanding that that isn't now so much of a challenge for you. And, if that isn't so much of a challenge, could you tell us if you could continue with the support for students post 2019? Because, as far as I understand it, we already have that funding in place for EU students. So, could we not therefore continue the current settlement as is—i.e., we've already got that in our budgets as part of what we've agreed here in the Assembly—because of course it's really important that European students don't choose to go to another part of the UK? For example, Scotland, they've said that they will extend it beyond 2021, and so we don't want to lose out when students will be making those decisions in the next year to decide potentially not to go to Wales and go to Scotland instead, when we need the financial backing from European students, because we are losing some of those students already because of, unfortunately, the discussions around Brexit.
Well, firstly, let me be clear that I want as many students from the EU, indeed as many students from around the world, to come and study here at our universities. We have a significant higher education offer, which would be of huge benefit to them. If I could just clarify to the Member, it is not our own budgets that are pertinent to this point—we need to have confirmation from the Westminster Government about the provision of loans. If that does not come forward, the Welsh Government would have to guarantee around £45 million of support to EU students to ensure that they would have the funding in place for the entirely of their study. I'm sure the Member would agree with me that would pose a significant risk to the Welsh Government budget. That's why we require clarity from the Westminster Government around access to loans. Without that clarity, I do not feel that I'm in a position to expose our budgets to those risks. I have pressed the UK higher education Minister, Mr Skidmore, on this issue at every meeting that I have with him. My understanding of the situation now is that we are unlikely to receive a decision or publicly have confirmation from the Westminster Government during the purdah period for the European elections.
Thank you for that reply, and I'm not asking from a position of hostility, I'm asking from a position of support, because of course we would want to support the Government's stance on this because we acknowledge how important those EU students would be to the Welsh economy, but also to enhance the lives of the students not only from the continent of Europe, but the lives of students who are here in Wales. So, if there's anything we can do to put influence on the UK Government in regard to the loan, then we would be fully supportive of being able to do that to show that Wales is open for business, despite the deliberations around Brexit.
On the third and final question, I just wanted to ask in relation to continuing the theme on the curriculum reform, but specifically in relation to further education. I've heard that many—. There has been welcoming of the actual change in process, but I've heard from some in the sector that they are worried about the progression to work-based learning and to post-16 education in relation to the transition. So, can you guarantee that this process will happen in a seamless way so that, when people are leaving school with these changes in qualifications, when they're accessing post-16 education or work-based learning, those skills will be able to be adaptable to that environment and that you will be engaging with the post-16 education sector in that vein to include them fully in any deliberations that you will be having on the changes to the curriculum?
Well, I'm grateful for the Member's support of the Welsh Government's stance with regard to the desire to continue to welcome EU students to study at our universities. I'm grateful for her understanding that, until we have clarity around those students' ability to access loans, which comes from the Westminster Treasury, we're not in a position to make further announcements.
Can I assure the member that FE have been intricately involved in the pioneer process in the development of the curriculum to date? Clearly, we would want any child emerging from our schools, following the implementation of the curriculum, with a set of qualifications, skills and aptitudes that will allow them to go on to pursue either the world of work or further education study, whether that be in apprenticeships, whether that be traditional academic A-level courses or vocational courses, and representatives of the FE sector have been involved to date. But may I use this opportunity, Presiding Officer, to encourage everybody who has an interest in Welsh education to engage in the period that we are in now, as we test, refine and challenge ourselves as to the development of our new curriculum—the first time in the history of this nation that we will have devised our own curriculum for our children and young people?
3. How is the Welsh Government supporting pupils using British Sign Language in schools? OAQ53779
Thank you very much, Mark. Our ambitious additional learning needs reforms will help ensure that all children and young people requiring British Sign Language to access education are at the heart of the planning process and have the support properly planned and protected.
Thank you. On 6 February, we debated the Deffo! Wales Deaf Youth Forum petition asking for deaf young people to have better access to education, qualified staff to work with, and help to develop the skills of deaf young people using British Sign Language. Deffo! is concerned that, in your subsequent response to a letter you were forwarded from them, you stated that none of the £289,000 extra money being put into the additional learning needs budget is to go for support for teaching assistants—or, as they prefer to be called, communication support workers—and they say that's truly shocking. How do you respond to their concern that, to date, they've had no further correspondence from your or anyone in Welsh Government regarding the plan to set up an advisory group to begin the actions that were agreed at the debate?
I would be very happy to update the campaigners, and I will put a copy of that letter, if appropriate, Presiding Officer, in the Library and also copy it to the Member concerned.
4. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to improve the rights of children to access sexuality and relationships education in all schools? OAQ53776
Can I thank the Member for the question? I'm committed to ensuring that all young people receive high-quality sexuality and relationships education. I announced in May 2018 my intention to rename this area of study and have proposed that relationships and sexuality education will be statutory for all learners in the new curriculum.
Thank you very much, Minister, for that. I think, having picked up the draft statutory guidance yesterday, it reads really, really well about what we're trying to do and also, hopefully, will calm down anybody who has been encouraged to think that this was, in some way, a way of brainwashing our children into one piece of action or another.
Obviously, the new areas of learning don't come into force for a little while, so, given the problems that there have been in England, where some quite homophobic remarks have been made, particularly by people who claim to be professionals, how can we ensure that parents in Wales realise that what we're trying to do is give children the tools they need to live a healthy life and to inform healthy relationships? Is there some sort of summary version that's going to be issued so that all parents are aware of what can become quite a contentious issue if it's in the wrong person's hands?
Can I thank Jenny for her positive welcome of the draft that was published yesterday? It is absolutely crucial that everybody understands that what we are proposing here is age and developmentally appropriate relationship and sexuality education that is fully inclusive and reflects the society our children and young people are growing up in and will become adults in. It is about giving those children and young people the language and the knowledge that they will need, as you say, to form healthy relationships—in the first instance, within their own family, and among their peers in school—how they can keep themselves safe, how they have the knowledge to understand what a healthy relationship looks like and what an abusive one looks like. And that is at the heart of what we're trying to do in the development of the new curriculum. But, clearly, I understand that, often, these are sensitive issues, particularly for adults. They're rarely so sensitive for children and young people, who seem to take it all very much in their stride. But it can be very sensitive for adults. And, as part of our engagement around the new curriculum, I will be undertaking a series of roadshow events, and I'll look in particular at engaging with families—mums, dads and carers—on these particular issues. But I'm grateful for the Member's support.
Welsh Women's Aid believes that schools need to be equipped with the resources they need to properly publicise the benefits of the new RSE curriculum—relationships and sexuality education—in order to ensure and protect children's rights. How do you respond to the reinforcement by Welsh Women's Aid of the need for a designated and trained RSE lead practitioner to develop and deliver the RSE curriculum and embed RSE in a whole-school approach, as recommended by the expert panel to improve impact and access for children across Wales?
Mark, as you'll be aware, the Welsh Government has funded Welsh Women's Aid to help us develop materials and resources to go into schools. Additional resources have been made available specifically to help train teachers and professionals working in our schools to discuss these issues with children and with young people.
I was delighted to receive today a letter from the Children's Commissioner for Wales that says that, having studied the draft of the curriculum that was published yesterday, she believes that that draft curriculum not only puts Wales at the forefront of the UK in ensuring children learn and are able to exercise their rights, but it puts us at the forefront internationally. Now, clearly, there is more work to be done, and the children's commissioner will want to provide feedback, but I'm delighted to receive her initial assessment of where this puts us—Wales—internationally at the forefront for children's rights.
5. What assessment has the Minister made of some schools in Mid and West Wales shutting at lunchtime on Fridays? OAQ53782
Thank you, Joyce. We are aware of some schools in west Wales that run an asymmetric week, with Friday afternoons used for planning and training time for teachers. It is for the schools to decide how to structure their week. However, in doing so, they must consult with parents before making any changes.
A number of the schools in my constituency have already introduced that early finish on a Friday, as you say, to allow time for teacher training, with many more expressing plans to follow suit in September. The concern is that some parents are wondering what, if any, subjects might be not delivered or reduced as a result of the two hours' reduced teaching time.
Also, some parents are concerned about the shortened week and what that might mean for them in terms of supervision for their children when they're working. I wonder whether you've had any discussions over those particular items that have been brought to my attention, and those concerns from those parents, with the schools in question.
Thank you, Joyce. Officials have been in touch with Pembrokeshire with regard to proposals to introduce the asymmetric week in some schools and the implementation already of the asymmetric week in others. Let me be absolutely clear: the assurances that I have had from Pembrokeshire County Council say that no child has to go home on a Friday afternoon as there is significant provision of extra-curricular activities and opportunities to stay for lunch and to participate in an entire range of extra-curricular activities, either of an artistic or expressive arts kind, or sport, or of an academic kind.
All schools, as I said, are required to undertake a community consultation should they wish to change to the asymmetric week. I know, for instance, in the case of Ysgol Harri Tudur, they continue to keep under review the asymmetric week and whether they wish to make further changes. Of course, Pembrokeshire is not the only area. Treorchy Comprehensive, for instance, in Rhondda Cynon Taf, has been operating an asymmetric week now for, I believe, two years.
Minister, do you agree with me that it's very important that any decision to move towards an asymmetric week is based on whether that's good for children and not whether that's convenient for adults, whether those adults are the teachers who are teaching them or the parents who are looking after them? Can you confirm that in the consultation you expect schools to undertake one of the issues that is covered would be the issue for rural schools of school transport and of children having absolutely no way to get to or from school except school buses, and the complications that that can bring to family life? The situation of children in very rural schools is, of course, different, potentially, with regard to an asymmetric week, if the children are not in school, to what it would be in a more urban area where there are more transport options.
I would absolutely agree that each school making these decisions has to look into the context in which they are delivering education, and that varies from community to community, let alone from local authority area to local authority area. What's really interesting in the work that was done by the Public Policy Institute for Wales is that one of the advantages of the asymmetric week that they found in the report was that, actually, they identified improvements in pupils' well-being, including the ability to engage in extracurricular activities that perhaps they would not be able to otherwise, to be able to spend more time with their families, to be able to spend a bit more time relaxing, rather than being—we often hear from parents about the constant pressure children feel in our academic settings—and it actually allows children to undertake personal appointments that would otherwise mean they were missing the school day. So, there are some advantages that the PPIW work highlighted, but the disadvantage of issues around transport, particularly in a rural area, is also something that they've identified. The Welsh Government does not have a stated policy on the asymmetric week in the sense that it is for individual schools to judge what is in the best interests of their pupils. And the Member is absolutely right; it has to be in the best interest of their pupils to make any changes to what is regarded as a traditional school day.
6. What is the Minister doing to ensure that schools are adequately financed? OAQ53785
Thank you very much, Leanne. I have taken action to support budgets for local authorities in order to safeguard front-line services in schools. Education funding remains a key priority for me and for this Government, in spite of continued austerity.
Speaking to headteachers in the Rhondda, it seems that their job is as much about clever accounting as it is about providing direction, leadership and drive to staff. In the local authority that covers the Rhondda, some secondary schools are more than £0.5 million in the red. There's pressure to balance the books, but services have already been cut to the bone, so the only way now to make those further cuts is to make large numbers of unsustainable staff redundancies. This, of course, will have a negative impact on the education of our children, and it's their education that should be our top priority.
I've raised the issues of what the teaching unions say is almost £0.5 billion—almost a fifth of all spending allocated for schools—of the education budget being kept from the front line because it's retained by local authorities or consortia. Now, I know that you dispute that figure. So, what advice and support can you give to our leaders in education who face very difficult financial decisions in the immediate future unless you make some changes?
Thank you, Leanne. I don't doubt for a minute the significant challenges that many headteachers are facing with regards to school budgets. It is important to recognise that the responsibility for day-to-day funding of schools lies with individual local education authorities. Like you, I share the ambition of ensuring that as much money gets to the front line as possible, and that's, for instance, why we took the decision to ensure that the £21 million for professional development was passported straight to individual headteachers.
Whatever the figure is, it is a source of great concern to me that any money that should be in the schools budget is being held inappropriately, either at LEA level or at consortia level, or, indeed, that there is a duplication of funding from LEAs and consortia. After all, the consortia are run by their constituent parts, and it would be strange indeed, wouldn't it, for a local authority to allow a regional consortium that it runs to duplicate spending when those budgets, as you quite rightly identified, are tight.
I am carrying out work centrally within Government to ensure that the direct grants that we have control of are being used appropriately and that that money is getting to the front line. But in the work that is being carried out by the Children, Young People and Education Committee, as I'm sure you're aware, there is not a consensus on whether moving to a system of direct funding of schools, bypassing both the LEA and the regional consortia, is a policy that has a consensus behind it. Indeed, your own education spokesperson feels very strongly that that should not be the case.
As you said, Minister, we need to ensure that funding reaches the front line. To be fair, programmes such as twenty-first century schools have provided much-needed funding for local authorities to improve school buildings and other aspects of school life, but, of course, that doesn't help the revenue situation of existing schools, particularly when they don't always tick the right funding formula boxes. For example, as I've raised with you before, in the Monmouthshire local authority area, schools have traditionally received less funding by virtue of the fact that they have fewer children accessing free school meals. Now, I can understand the reason for having that aspect of the formula, but that does mean that Monmouthshire schools have received less over time even though there are, of course, children going to those schools who are from disadvantaged backgrounds. So, my question to you is: how are you ensuring that the funding formula does work overall and does fairly fund local authorities and schools in different parts of Wales so that our children do have the best start in life?
As the Member will be more than aware, the decision on individual funding for schools is a matter for each individual local authority. With regards to the funding formula, I think the Member is referring to the funding formula for local government as a whole. You will be aware that there is a funding formula review group that regularly looks at different aspects of the revenue support grant scheme. My understanding is that, certainly, last year, there was a representative from Monmouthshire council on that very group and had the ability to influence the data and the formula as it was undertaken. Both myself and the local government Minister have said that we are more than happy to engage with individual Members who may have suggestions on how the formula operates, but I have to tell the Member, when given the opportunity earlier last year to change issues around the indicator-based assessment for education, it was local government representatives themselves that decided not to proceed with that change.
7. Will the Minister make a statement on the retention of students in North Wales after completion of further education? OAQ53774
Thank you, Mandy. Further education colleges across Wales do excellent work in planning their curriculum to reflect employer needs, and in preparing students at all levels to progress into further learning and employment that reflects their skills and their personal aspirations.
Thank you for that answer. Minister, I've read that our young people in Wales are the most likely of any in the UK nations to apply to study outside of their home nation. Some 40 per cent go to England, Scotland or Northern Ireland. We know that when young people go away to study they may never come back, and this is having a very negative effect in parts of my region. How will the Welsh Government seek to incentivise young people to study here at home?
I've been very, very clear that I don't want to put any limitations on the aspirations of Welsh young people to study in institutions either in their home nation or in the rest of the United Kingdom, or, indeed, internationally. Of course, what we need to do in Wales is to ensure that the quality of our offer is strong, and I believe that it is, but secondly look at what we can do to persuade people who do study abroad or study in other parts of the United Kingdom to come home to Wales, just like I did and many other people in this Chamber will have done. Just one of the ways in which we will be doing that is that there will be additional financial incentives for students coming back to Wales to do their postgraduate study in core subjects that will benefit the economy. They will be entitled to additional support for their studies if they undertake them here in Wales and if they undertake them in a subject that is particularly pertinent to the needs of the Welsh economy.
I'm just looking to see who's next. I know somebody is next. And it's you, Mr Griffiths. Question 8, John Griffiths.
8. What further steps will the Welsh Government take to ensure that the education system provides the skills required to support the Welsh economy? OAQ53761
It's a good job the Presiding Officer found you, John; it's a most excellent question. We are working to deliver a new curriculum for all learners by 2022. It'll be purpose led so that by the age of 16 they should be capable, confident, ethical individuals who play an active part in their community and society, and are prepared to thrive in the world of work.
Thank you, Minister. I wonder if you're familiar with a recent proposal for a national technology institute, which came from Newport economic network. It's really about looking at how we provide this sort of applied education for world-class technical, digital and entrepreneurial skills, really in responding to the fourth industrial revolution. It does have a good deal of work behind it, Minister, and it is about the practicalities of taking that forward with existing institutions and providers rather than creating something very new in that sense. I can see that you are familiar with it, and I'd be very interested in your views.
Well, John, you're right, I am familiar with it and officials have met with representatives from Newport City Council and the Newport economic network to discuss the content of the report and the exciting vision that it presents. There are meetings planned with existing providers and other stakeholders to consider the proposal and what the next steps could be to develop it even further.
Thank you, Minister.
The next questions are the questions to the Minister for Health and Social Services, and the first question is from Alun Davies.
1. Will the Minister make a statement on access to GPs in Blaenau Gwent? OAQ53765
Yes. Thank you for the question. We want to see sustainable and accessible GP services across Wales, including, of course, in Blaenau Gwent. GP practices are using components of the newly established primary care model to improve the way that they provide services with, and for, patients.
Minister, it was a real pleasure to welcome you to Blaenau Gwent some months ago, where we discussed the access to GP services in and throughout the borough. You'll be aware, as well, that the Welsh Government has helped to invest in a new well-being centre in Brynmawr. I think nearly £4 million has been invested in improving the facilities available to the people of Brynmawr and the upper Ebbw Fach valley, but since the opening of the new centre, I've had literally hundreds of people contacting me, talking about how difficult it is to access the services in the well-being centre. I'm sure you share the frustration of people in Brynmawr and myself and elsewhere that we invest in fantastic new facilities to improve the healthcare infrastructure in Brynmawr and then people find it difficult to access services within those facilities. What do you say to those people who see this wonderful new facility but are enormously frustrated being unable to get an appointment to see a GP or other healthcare professionals?
Well, I'd say that we recognise that access is one of the key priorities for the public when it comes to the national health service and local health services in particular. It's the largest issue of concern in the National Survey for Wales and it's grown as an issue. That's why we're determined to make progress on improving access. The investments that we're making in facilities are designed to do that, but it does require change in practice. And everywhere that new access arrangements are made, in particular about triage arrangements, whether by non-clinical staff, nurse led or GP led, there's almost always been a bump in getting over a new way of working for staff, but also for the public to access that service.
I expect, where those new arrangements are introduced, that people inform the public of changes in advance and then listen to what the public are saying about how they access those services, because I do expect everyone to be able to access the right clinicians at the right place and in the right time. And if you haven't had a satisfactory response from the practice manager at the new centre, I'd be more than happy to sit there with you to run through what we can do to try and ensure the improvement we plainly want to see for residents in Blaenau Gwent and Brynmawr.
Aneurin Bevan health board confirmed to me today that of their 398 GPs, only 34 of those are in Blaenau Gwent, and that's 8.5 per cent of the total compared to perhaps the around 12 per cent we'd expect by population. One way they try and tackle this is through the directly employed GPs, and I was pleased to hear that, actually, the majority of those were in Blaenau Gwent, but less pleased to hear that that meant only four out of the seven full-time equivalents.
Does the Minister think that these managed GPs, directly employed by the health boards, could be significantly expanded in number to at least in part address the shortages and difficulties of access to GPs in Blaenau Gwent?
Well, this is a subject that I regularly get asked about in this Chamber, about whether there is a Welsh Government agenda to get rid of the partnership model in general practice, and that is not our intention at all. The great majority of general practice is delivered through the partnership model, the independent contractor model, and the managed practices are there to try and help through to deliver new models of care or to manage a transition, where traditionally, when GPs are retiring, we need to make sure that the service continues, and it is true that no person in Wales has been left without a GP.
So, I see managed practices as part of the future answer, but not a replacement for the independent contractor model. And that is about the conversation with local GPs, and our cluster model has helped to promote that better working between practices, and I think we will continue to see more mergers and federations between practices and a new way of employing GPs, but I still think that the independent contractor model will be the foundation of general practice here in Wales for some time to come.
2. Will the Minister make a statement on cancer screening programmes in Wales? OAQ53783
Thank you for the question. Population screening is a public health priority. We know that cancer screening programmes save lives. Public Health Wales is responsible for delivering the cancer screening programmes in Wales and they are overseeing significant improvements aimed at maximising uptake and, of course, preventing more cancers.
Thank you, Minister. Earlier this year, I and my office staff became cancer screening champions after completing a training session led by Aneurin Bevan University Health Board and Public Health Wales. I'm also proud to be the Assembly's first bowel cancer champion, and I'm delighted that eight colleagues have since signed up. Worryingly, Newport has one of the lowest rates of all cancer screening participation in Wales. Nationally across Wales, the uptake of bowel screening last year was only 55 per cent. Improving the uptake of these free and potentially lifesaving screening programmes is vital.
The simpler, more sensitive fecal immunochemical bowel screening test has been available in Wales since January. What action is the Welsh Government taking to publicise this new test and encourage those who are eligible to take part in all screening programmes?
Thank you for the question. You're correct that we started introducing the new, more sensitive and, importantly, easier to administer test from January this year. It will be fully implemented across the whole of Wales by June this year. Actually, when people receive their invite to undertake the test, that's part of the direct contact with people, and it's also part of our broader message about the fact that screening really does save lives. It's important to introduce it in a way where we don't actually provide more demand than our system can cope with. That's why we're having a phased approach, having greater sensitivity within the test to make sure that we have the right number of people to deliver treatment after that. So, we'll continue, at each point, to review again the figures on uptake and the impact that means for the service. You can expect to hear on a regular basis that encouragement, a simple message from the Government and Public Health Wales to use the test, to take it up, because undertaking that screening really will save lives.
Minister, bowel cancer screening is clearly an important area. The FIT test is sensitivity based and, actually, the level of sensitivity is going to be crucial in that, but also perhaps the age, because at the moment it's 60 but it could go down to 50, but there are also smear tests. So, there is a variety of tests that are basically declining. What discussions are you having with Public Health Wales to ensure that we promote these tests, so that we get more people taking the tests, because, as you say, you get them early and we can avoid people having cancer because we can actually spot things earlier or we can treat it earlier, which means an earlier diagnosis and better results?
You're right, and it's of course a point of concern that there's been a slow decline, not just in Wales but across the UK, in people actually taking up the smear tests that are offered. That's partly about looking at if there's going to be a change in the test and there is some research being done on self-administered screening. There's a pilot taking place that's due to start in September this year in London, so I'll be interested in the results, which will be shared across the UK. But it's the reinforcing of the message and understanding which particular groups we need to target, because younger women are the least likely to take up the tests that are available. So, you will have seen the #loveyourcervix campaign that we started in March. We wanted to see something that was more body positive, so that people are not embarrassed about attending, and again recognise the same message with bowel screening. The tests are designed to help save lives and not taking the test means that there is an unknown risk for that person and more broadly. So, I'm more than happy to reiterate the message that I want everybody who is offered a screening test in Wales to take up the opportunity to do that for themselves and their families.
Questions now from party spokespeople. Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Helen Mary Jones.
Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. Thank you. Last year, the General Medical Council struck off 76 doctors and the Nursing and Midwifery Council struck off 257 individuals regarded as no longer fit to practice in the health service across the UK. I'm sure the Minister will agree with me that it's right for professionals in the health service to be held accountable for serious malpractice and misconduct. Does the Minister believe that managers in the health service should also be held accountable and, if so, can he tell this Chamber how many senior managers or board members in the Welsh NHS have lost their jobs as a result of service failures or mismanagement since 2016?
Well, of course, the Member's aware that I don't have at my fingertips the number of staff who have left the health service from managerial positions going back to 2016. It is worth reflecting, as I said yesterday when a similar point was made, that a number of managers and leaders in services within the health service are, of course, registered clinicians as well and have professional duties too. So, you'd need to look at those people who are caught by their professional responsibilities as well as their responsibilities as managers. This goes into the broader point about leadership, governance and accountability within each one of those NHS organisations.
I'm sure that the Minister will understand, after yesterday's statement, that issues with regard to leadership and accountability are of great concern to Members in this Chamber. Can the Minister explain to us why he has had Betsi Cadwaladr health board in special measures for about four years and we don't seem to have seen any change after this lengthy intervention? Can he account for why, if we come back to the Cwm Taf situation, there were eight reports over six years and none of those reports triggered the change that was clearly needed, and mothers and babies continued to be let down and some grievously harmed? Can the Minister explain to this Chamber why families in the Cwm Taf area should trust him, his officials and the measures that they've put in place to sort out the system in Cwm Taf, given that he failed to pick up on any of these eight reports over those six years after the first concerns were raised and that the problems in Betsi Cadwaladr are nowhere near being solved after four years?
I think there are three particular questions there, Llywydd, the first about—[Interruption.] The first about special measures in north Wales, and, of course, it's factually incorrect to say no progress has been made. For example, one of the main issues that saw Betsi Cadwaladr go into special measures were challenges in their maternity services, and they have come out of special measures, because real and sustained improvement has been made, because the steps that we took, including new leadership within the midwifery service and a change in culture across the whole service, actually have made a difference. It's also true, for example, that the out-of-hours service in north Wales has come out of special measures as a concern. There are remaining concerns, and that's why that health board remains in special measures, because I'm determined to make sure there is a real measure of progress and it's not simply an artificial device for a politician to use.
When it comes to Cwm Taf, as explained at length yesterday in the statement and in answer to questions to it, the seriousness and the depths of the concerns were not apparent from those previous reports, which is why action was not taken until I commissioned the joint royal colleges review in October last year. Part of the concern is about why other factors, why other flags of concern and complaints, in particular, did not lead to a change in culture and practice within the health board at the time. That's why I've taken the action that I outlined in detail yesterday in writing and in the oral statement.
And in terms of the confidence that public and staff should have, a key part of that is the work that not just our independent regulators will be doing, but the independent oversight group that I have appointed, with independent clinicians, to oversee the 43 serious incidents and to look back to 2010. I will meet directly with families over the next two weeks, as well as staff, to hear directly from them, together with Mick Giannasi, their concerns and to understand how we help to rebuild confidence in the service that must improve, and that certainly requires significant change.
Well, I'm sure, Llywydd, that this Chamber will be rather concerned that after eight reports over six years, the Minister and his officials had not picked up on the seriousness of this situation. We heard individual testimonies in this Chamber suggesting that those concerns actually go back a lot further than the first report that I'm referring to in 2012. I'm just really concerned, Llywydd, that this is suggesting that we have a Minister who doesn't have a grip on the system. Eight reports over six years, and nothing was done until you called for the report years ago.
I try to avoid being sensationalist in the Chamber, but during those years children died, mothers were traumatised and families were traumatised. I have to ask the Minister why he thinks that we should now be reassured that he and his officials will be able to pick up on these issues effectively when they didn't for that period of years.
I wonder if the Minister agrees with Owen Smith MP when he says in the Western Mail today that the Welsh Government cannot be absolved of blame for the failings in Cwm Taf. I wonder if the Minister understands that many people are concerned about what appears to be a complacent response from him. I was astonished, for example, to hear him yesterday dismiss the implications of the inverse care law—the fact that these communities that were so badly served were so poor. I was shocked to hear him dismiss that. It suggests to me that he doesn't understand those communities very well. I was also shocked—and I am not easily shocked—to hear the Minister say, when asked by ITV yesterday whether the buck stops with him, the Minister's response was that the buck stops with everyone. Well, I'm afraid I must put it to this Chamber, Llywydd, that the buck does not stop with everyone—the buck stops with the Minister. And I am going to ask him again to consider his position, and if he is unable to consider his position, to explain what further, what more serious situation would occur in the health service in Wales, what more has to go wrong before he is prepared to take personal responsibility?
I return to the range of points—I think there are five different points made at that time, Llywydd. In terms of the eight reports that the Member refers to, none of them refer to the depth of challenge that was revealed in the autumn of last year, which led to my commissioning of the joint royal colleges report. That was a decision I took because of the concern that had been properly revealed at that time. And it's a matter of a simple fact that, of course, I hadn't been in this role during the whole six years that you refer to. I've acted in the time that I have been in office on all the information that I have had available to me. And it is part of the challenge to understand how and why concern was not flagged up and acted on at an earlier point. That's why the independence in the oversight arrangements in the review process is absolutely crucial, to rebuild the trust and confidence that staff and the wider public will expect.
I certainly have not dismissed the inverse care law. I have made clear that I expect every person, every family, every community, in Wales to be treated appropriately by our national health service, with dignity and respect, to have their voices listened to. It is part of what I have found deeply upsetting in respect of Cwm Taf maternity services. That clearly did not happen to a range of families who have spoken about their experiences. So, the action that we have taken more broadly about the inverse care law, we have particular programmes undertaken in Aneurin Bevan, together with Cwm Taf. So, this is something that we are deliberately taking proactive action upon here within the health service in Wales.
Now, when I say, 'Who has a share of responsibility?', everyone in this health service does have a share of the responsibility for the way the whole health service works. But, ultimately, I'm the Minister for Health and Social Services, and I have overall responsibility for what happens. And I am far from complacent about my responsibilities, not only in the sense of the whole performance of the service, not just the challenges, but the good that the service does. But my responsibility is to see through the improvement that I recognise is plainly required and I am determined to see delivered.
The Conservative spokesperson, Janet Finch-Saunders.
It is widely known among stakeholders, users, politicians in Wales that social care funding across Wales is considered to be very serious. Alongside the 2019-20 local government settlement, providing councils with nothing but real-terms cuts once again, leaving them with little choice but to cut vital services, Wales is likely to have a 35 per cent increase in population over the age of 65 by 2039. The additional pressure on local authorities has been noted by the Welsh Local Government Association, who have estimated that there will be £344 million-worth of service pressures in social care by 2021-2. Clearly—[Interruption.] Allow the Minister, if he can, to respond to me. Clearly, a realistic vision is required, rather than the current rhetoric so often heard in this Chamber. The introduction of a transformative reform package is a necessity, and one that frees up local authorities from the continual, significant and ever-increasing financial burden. The provision of appropriate social care for our most vulnerable in Wales is not only an entitlement, it is a basic human right. Will you, as the portfolio holder and Minister, acknowledge the fact that local authorities across Wales are massively under-resourced by your department, by your Government, financially to provide social care? And will you look at transforming how this is funded?
Well, Llywydd, the questioner shows a staggering lack of self-awareness in asking the question. The unavoidable reality is that the Welsh Government has suffered a 7 per cent real-term reduction in our budget—well over £1 billion—and that has consequences that are unavoidable and directly flow from the policy of austerity implemented by the Government that you support, a policy that you have campaigned for in three successive general elections.
I should also point out that if all of the spending demands made by Conservatives in this Chamber, and outside it, were acceded to, then we would have a much larger sum of money because we simply cannot meet all of the demands you make upon us. They are wholly unrealistic, as well as ignoring the impact of Conservative austerity. When you talk about the challenges of local government and paying for care, the biggest challenge they face is austerity. If you want to see a change in the position of local government and their funding, you should join with others in this Chamber and outside and call on the Conservative Government to end the policy on austerity to stop the damage being done in each and every one of our communities. I think many people will hear what you have had to say and wonder if at all you understand what is happening, or that if you do, whether you're potentially just a touch hypocritical.
I thought we were in for a kinder politics, actually. I haven't insulted you personally.
Now, one recent idea as to how to fund social care is the proposal this week that has been outlined by the Rt Hon Damian Green MP in his paper on fixing the care crisis. It's fair to say that the UK Government realise that it's a ticking time bomb where social care pressures are and they are prepared to do something about it. Now, this would see a pension-style system introduced, guaranteeing a reasonable universal safety net. I'm not endorsing this at this point, but what I'm saying is that they are looking at it and coming up with meaningful and potential ways to address the issue. The way you smile, you look as if you don't even believe that there's a social care funding crisis in Wales. Now, this would help increase the flow of private funding into the—. [Interruption.] You can heckle and try and support him from the sidelines—
Don't take any notice of them; that's the best advice I can give. Ignore them completely and carry on.
Thank you. Just for the reference, £1.20 is spent on public services in Wales—provided by the UK Government—for every £1 in England. So, there's an obvious fault there, isn't there, when, clearly, there's less money being spent in England, and—[Inaudible.]—delivery? But, anyway, on with my question. This would encourage a greater voluntary contribution of the around £163 billion in non-pension assets possessed by each annual cohort of 65-year-olds in Great Britain. Now, the merits of the proposal may be a debate for another day, but at least, as I've said, they're looking at it. But we must acknowledge that something has to be done in Wales. Can you say yourself that the Welsh Government, and you as a Minister, are doing enough to do this, and will you also confirm to me how you have taken forward one, two or even more of the nine recommendations of the Finance Committee report, 'The cost of caring for an ageing population', especially No. 7, which highlights the need to engage with the public about the future funding of social care in Wales, and to have a national conversation? Have you taken those recommendations forward, and are you prepared to have that national conversation?
Well, I'd like to thank the Member for her latest interesting take and bring her back to reality. The undeniable challenges on social care exist right across the United Kingdom, including here in Wales. Within the significant reductions made to our budget by the UK Conservative Government that she supports and has campaigned for, we have made honest choices about the share in resources between health, local government and all other public services and money we spend on supporting the economy. If the Conservatives in the United Kingdom Government were really serious about fixing this issue, they would have done something about it. We've been promised a Green Paper, not a paper by Damian Green, to understand what the UK Government are going to do on this. It has been delayed again and again and again.
The Dilnot commission that was supposed to help take this matter forward was buried by the Conservative Government in the last term. The reality is we could have made more progress right across the United Kingdom if the UK Government had been a straight and honest dealer in this and actually taken action rather than kicking the can down the road. Here in Wales, we do have an inter-ministerial group that I chair on looking at the future payment for social care, and looking at how we generate more money to go into our social care system. And that is not a consequence of free choice to make at all, and if we want more resources to go in, there are difficult choices about where that money comes from and if we're prepared to fund that in a variety of different ways.
I suggest that rather than just looking at it, the UK Government needs to recognise that they are responsible for the position on social care funding, and it comes back again to the choice on austerity. End austerity—there are different choices that every Government within the United Kingdom can make. End austerity, and your Conservative colleagues who run councils in England will have a different settlement, because don't take my word for it, but the choices that your Government across the United Kingdom has made have had even more serious consequences in England than any other part of the UK. They look on the way Welsh local government has been treated and they recognise there is a much better deal available for local government here because there is a Welsh Labour Government that has balanced our resources and prioritised local services.
A very, very weak response from a Government Minister. You have just actually admitted to this Chamber that despite you having the levers, despite you having the resources financially, and despite you having the powers, you're actually waiting for a Green Paper from the United Kingdom Government. What happened to devolution? What happened to you taking the lead as a Government Minister and as a Welsh Labour Government? You've answered that question. But, anyway, I've got one more for you. [Laughter.]
There are 370,000 carers in Wales providing 96 per cent of the care in communities across Wales and they contribute more than £8.1 billion to the Welsh economy every year. Now, if just a small percentage of these hard-working carers stopped caring, health and social care services would undoubtedly submerge into a deeper crisis than I have mentioned. Therefore, challenges faced by unpaid carers in Wales must be addressed by you. For example, I am shocked, and I am sure other Members here would be, to learn—
You do need to come to your question now. You don't need to preamble your third question.
Many carers are unable to access appropriate breaks from their caring responsibilities in order for themselves to live healthy and fulfilling lives and to reach their own potential in terms of education and employment. What urgent steps are you taking to ensure that all carers receive the adequate breaks they require and that the full cost of replacement of respite care in order for them to live their own fulfilled lives is achieved?
Thank you for the question on carers—an important subject on which there is some cross-party agreement that we need to find a better deal on. The Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 provides rights that do not exist in other parts of the United Kingdom. Our challenge is how we work with our partners and make sure those rights are realised. There is no lack of focus on carers and, indeed, the Deputy Minister is leading work with carers on implementing a better deal for them here in Wales.
I actually think the problem with this set of questions is that when you talk about powers, levers and resources that already exist, actually the undeniable truth is we have only recently had powers over changing our income. We have not had the resources. That's a point I've continually made about austerity and your failure to take any kind of responsibility for the choice that you have actively campaigned for in three successive general elections. It is a Conservative choice, it is a Conservative creation—the crisis that we see across public services right across the United Kingdom.
The challenge in this exchange is that, unfortunately, Llywydd, I just don't think the Member understands what is actually happening within the country, and let's just leave it at that.
UKIP spokesperson, Neil Hamilton.
Diolch, Llywydd. The Minister will know that in the years 2017-18, 100,000 ophthalmology patients' appointments were cancelled, often at very short notice, and that figure was a rise of 5.5 per cent on two years before. Those who have been waiting for twice as long as they should for a follow-up appointment were 35,000 in December 2018, up from 15,000 in April 2015. The latest figures that I have been able to find for those people who go blind whilst waiting for treatment in Wales is 48. That was back in 2014 in a Royal National Institute of Blind People report. Is it not a scandal that a single person in Wales should go blind whilst waiting for treatment by the NHS?
This is an area in which we've actually changed measures, and the difference between measures and what happened in the service actually matters. We were measuring a referral-to-treatment target that didn't actually take account of the clinical priority of patients. So, we had a blunt measure that didn't take account of how the service should act to actually deal with the potential clinical harm. So, one of the things that I have done is that I have now worked with the service, together with the Royal National Institute of Blind People, and we have new measures in place that actually take account of clinical priority. So, some people will wait longer, but we will prioritise those people in the greatest need to avoid the prospect of people actually suffering avoidable sight loss. It's a deliberate choice that we've made, and I believe the health service and the people of Wales will be better off for it, and it enjoys the widespread support of both clinicians and the third sector.
Well, better late than never, I certainly acknowledge that, but there is still a very long way to go. The Minister will know that the Public Accounts Committee has been taking an interest in this area, and recently we took evidence form Aneurin Bevan health board, which noted the need for improvement on its current 62 per cent performance of risk 1 patients being seen by the target date or within 25 per cent in excess of the target date. Risk 1 is defined by the RNIB as a risk of irreversible harm or significant patient adverse outcome if the patient target date is missed. These delays are really intolerable, are they not?
If you look at the follow-up appointments in certain health boards, there is a very significant disparity between performance. In Abertawe Bro Morgannwg, there were 5,000 people waiting twice as long as they should do for follow-up appointments—that's four times as many as two years before. In Cardiff and Vale, 10,000 people are waiting twice as long as they need for eye appointments. That's four times the position two years ago. This is something that calls for the most urgent action possible from the health Secretary, and perhaps he could tell us what, in practical terms, he's now going to do to sort the problem out.
Well, the new measures themselves are not simply an answer in themselves. They are actually about how we organise and run the whole system. It's about actually ensuring that we're able to transfer care into community-based services wherever possible, and actually Aneurin Bevan have been leading on a range of that work, to provide greater time and capacity within hospital-based services for people who need to be seen by a hospital-based clinician. So, it's about re-engineering our whole system. And actually if you talk to people within the service, and if you talk to people across the system within the United Kingdom, they recognise that we're doing the right things here in Wales and there is a challenge about how other parts of the UK catch up with what we're doing, both in local treatment within the community as well as more priority for the right people to be seen more quickly within a hospital system. That means different measures that accurately reflect what matters to the person and what should matter to all of us to make sure that the right care is provided at the right time and in the right place.
3. Will the Minister make a statement on access to GP services in North Wales? OAQ53773
Yes. We want to see sustainable and accessible GP services across Wales. GP practices are using components of the primary care model to improve the way they provide services to patients, including, of course, within north Wales.
Thank you for that answer, Minister. GP services are suffering. My constituents report waiting weeks for a routine appointment and just not being able to get through on the phone, sometimes needing to try up to 50 times and then giving up. Many say that they are losing confidence and faith in the health service. We've already heard that recent changes to the funding available for the indemnity scheme seem to be a step too far for many of those GPs. Minister, your very first ministerial responsibility is oversight of NHS delivery and performance. Are you doing your job properly?
'Yes' is the simple answer to the final question, but actually we know that, in response to the question asked by Alun Davies, there is a need to recognise that access is a key challenge in every community across Wales. And actually, as politicians, when you go out and talk to people, you know if there's a problem because it's localised—because some houses you'll talk to won't have a problem at all and won't raise it, and a few streets over, you'll have lots of people saying they have real challenges about accessing their local general practice.
That's why I've made access such a priority in conversations with local health services not just in the last year, but in the year moving ahead as well. It's part of our conversations with general practice in terms of how we introduce those new models, because, actually, most general practices in the country don't have a problem with having access to the right person at the right time, but a significant minority do, and almost all of us will know people, if not ourselves, who have had some of those challenges.
When it comes to the general practice contract for general medical services, we have made real progress. We have made a real step forward on indemnity arrangements. It will de-risk the future of local healthcare for general practitioners. On the broader contract, I am optimistic that we will secure agreement, as I have always intended to. Recently, and over the last month, there have been further negotiations between the BMA general practice committee, the Welsh Government and the NHS, and I'm optimistic that in the coming weeks we'll reach an agreement to take this matter forward.
Of course, because of the shortage of GPs in north Wales, more and more surgeries have been coming under direct management by the Betsi Cadwaladr health board. Can I ask whether Welsh Government has carried out any analysis or any sort of study comparing services provided by those surgeries as compared to the more traditional practice model?
Yes, there's quite a lot of information available about the relative cost of independent contractors or managed practices, but it's also about our ability to attract and retain people to work in those services, not just GPs, but other clinical staff as well. So, we do have a range of those practices that have come in to be managed by Betsi Cadwaladr, and they've all managed to maintain a service for the local public, but my ambition is to have a more stable model for local healthcare to be delivered. That's why we talk about clusters coming together; we think we're going to see more co-working between those different practices. Those may be formal mergers; they may be federations. But, actually, to have that stability, whether doctors choose to work as an employed doctor employed by other doctors, or whether they wish to become partners—and we ought to incentivise people to become partners in general practice—and then to make sure they have a proper multidisciplinary team, that is more and more what we are going to deliver in local healthcare. If the Member wants further detail, I'd be happy to discuss outside the Chamber in correspondence.
4. Will the Minister make a statement on hospital waiting times for patients in north Wales? OAQ53771
Yes. Whilst the health board has improved its 36-week position by 3 per cent between February last year and this year, I am disappointed with the number of people who are still waiting too long. I have made my expectations clear for the health board, and I expect to see further improvements in waiting times before the end of this year and into the next. To help that, the Welsh Government has provided additional funding to help achieve that improvement in performance.
Too many people are waiting too long for treatment in north Wales. People on orthopaedic waiting lists are typically waiting, now, for two years in order to get access to their treatment. You clawed back £1 million from the health board this year because of its failure to hit your waiting time targets, and £3 million was clawed back last year because of a similar failure in that period. The situation with the Countess of Chester hospital, which took a significant number of referrals from north-east Wales, is going to make waiting times even longer and more difficult to achieve in terms of the targets. When will you wake up, make sure that the Countess of Chester hospital gets the funding it needs to make sure that it can care for the Welsh patients that need access to that service so that we can get these waiting times down, and when will you sign off the orthopaedic waiting time plan, which has been sat on your desk for 18 months, in order that these patients can get access to the treatment they need within the waiting time target?
I think there are three particular points there, Llywydd. The first is that two years is not the standard wait for all orthopaedic patients. That is not even the average wait. But there are some specialities, in particular some forms of joint replacements, where the wait is of that order, and that is simply far too long and simply not acceptable.
The orthopaedic plan has not been sat on my desk for 18 months. I am yet to receive an orthopaedic plan from the health board that I can make a determination on, on whether to invest in that or not. It has taken more time than I certainly have wanted to get a joint plan that clinicians across Wales and the health board can agree will actually match the capacity now and in the future.
When it comes to the Countess of Chester, the Member is simply wrong to suggest that the Welsh system is refusing to make payments and that that is the reason, while the Countess of Chester took unilateral action. It is rather more complicated than that. The Welsh system has not behaved inappropriately, and I hope that people in the Countess of Chester will behave in a way that reflects the values that should exist right across the national health service in every one of the four nations and not disadvantage patients while discussions continue about an appropriate rate of payment. And each and every year, the Welsh system has paid its bills in full and on time.
You say that you’re disappointed that people are waiting too long. It’s worth taking a moment just to think what exactly 'too long' means in this context. I wrote to the Betsi Cadwaladr health board and received a response on 8 April. I wrote on behalf of a patient waiting for a new knee. The response said that some 2,200 patients were awaiting orthopaedic treatment and that waiting times for elective surgery was around 100 weeks. That’s two years. Now, a fortnight later, I got a response saying that waiting times for knee operations or hip operations were more than 110 weeks. Now, this at any level isn’t anywhere near what is acceptable to us. Isn’t it time for us now to realise that special measures in themselves are not enough and that we need to move to some sort of crisis measures for Betsi Cadwaladr, or to seriously consider whether the single health board model for north Wales is fit for purpose?
There's no suggestion that changing the organisational structure of Betsi Cadwaladr and having two or three different health boards would actually improve performance in this area. The challenge would still be about how different clinicians on different sites actually work to a unified plan to make better use of the resources that they share across the health board. That will require investment in capital facilities and require a change in practice. I expect to see both those things set out in the orthopaedic plan, when I am actually provided with it, for me to make a decision on whether to invest or not.
I recognise that people are waiting far too long in north Wales in particular. I recognise that we're spending money in a way, in actually providing additional capacity from the independent system or from England, that is not actually a long-term, sustainable way to use that resource. We need a more sustainable way to use that resource here in Wales and to only use capacity outside of the Welsh system when it is absolutely necessary. So, I am under no illusions about the unacceptable position that faces our staff and in particular our patients. I look forward to receiving the plan so I can make a choice on the next steps to be taken in orthopaedic services.
5. Will the Minister make a statement on the performance of Swansea Bay University Health Board? OAQ53744
I'm sure the Member will appreciate I can't get the performance figures for the newly created Swansea Bay University Health Board. However, for the former Abertawe Bro Morgannwg, performance continued to improve across key areas compared to the previous year, with improved performance in A&E waits, referral-to-treatment times, and diagnostic and therapy waits, and the new health board continues to see more patients within the target time for cancer compared to the previous year.
Minister, since being escalated to targeted intervention status in September 2016, Swansea bay health board, formerly, obviously, ABMU health board until recently, has made some progress in terms of its performance, as you outlined, and the work of the new leadership team has to be acknowledged. However, pressures do remain. There are challenges in delivering against the cancer pathway target across the health board, and also within planned care. Despite reductions in the number of people waiting over 36 weeks, nearly 11 per cent of patients are still waiting over 26 weeks—six months—with waiting times in some areas, such as trauma and orthopaedics, actually having worsened since September 2016, when it went into targeted intervention. This September, this health board, with its various names, will have been in targeted intervention for three years, so what further actions are you planning to ensure that services reach a level that patients in Swansea and Neath Port Talbot deserve?
I recognise the points the Member makes and, to be fair, he regularly raises performance issues of the health service in the region that he represents. I have previously said, in both a written statement and in an oral statement, that I expect the new health board to have an approvable three-year plan created within this year, and that must come on the back of not just real improvement made to date, but prospects of further improvement in the future. We've actually done better on performance over the last year, and, in making use of the additional resources we've made available, that has to continue. So you're correct that 89 per cent of people within the new health board can expect to be seen within 26 weeks. I expect to see further improvement. I expect to see the health board come out of targeted intervention and to continue to improve in each of the key areas that you have outlined.
Minister, you may remember, in the 2017-18 accountability report for ABMU, that the board were very jubilant, actually, that they'd shown an improvement inasmuch as the £36 million overspend that they'd predicted was actually only £32 million, and that that figure actually disguised a better saving because the figure included £7.4 million that was a penalty for not achieving referral-to-treatment time targets, which I don't think is anything that they should be proud of. We now have the new Swansea Bay University Health Board, with a reduced footprint. Will you be expecting some more ambition from them in terms of their financial controls, or will you be satisfied if the new board comes in again to say that overspending by fewer millions of pounds than they were expecting is a success, because those fewer millions of pounds could of course be going towards the social services and you would have been able to answer Janet Finch-Saunders's question differently?
I would say the health board were far from jubilant about the reduction in their deficit down to £32 million. It was still unacceptable, and that was made absolutely clear to them both by my officials, but also by me, here, in conversations directly with the chair, and in the appraisal I've made it very clear I expect them to continue to improve. They won't have a balanced plan for me to sign off unless they can demonstrate that they are on track to live within their means, and to do so not just in one year, but over the three-year period. That is my expectation of the organisation—to improve its performance, including its financial performance, as well as improving the quality and the timeliness of its care and treatment for the people that you and I represent.
6. Will the Minister make a statement on cross-border healthcare in north Wales? OAQ53756
Yes. Patient flow across the England and Wales border happens on a daily basis. Cross-border healthcare provision is arranged through formal agreements between local heath boards and English providers to meet the healthcare needs of the local population and, of course, we see a significant number of English residents coming into Wales for treatment, especially in regard to primary care.
Diolch. Before recess, the Countess of Chester Hospital announced a unilateral decision to not accept any new elective referrals for Welsh patients. Minister, I thank you for meeting with me earlier today about this, and I know you are aware, following our meeting, that this issue is hurting people in my constituency and, indeed, people right across Flintshire. They are deeply, deeply concerned and angry about what the future will mean, and I have to say I share those feelings with them. And playing politics on an issue like this, in my view, is a disgrace.
My constituents want to know, Llywydd, why we are in this situation, but, most importantly, they want to know what's going to happen in the future. Minister, there needs to be an immediate interim solution to this issue whilst negotiations take place to allow Welsh patients to access cross-border services.
We also need assurances that this situation will never happen again—not just to my constituents, but to any patient who uses cross-border services throughout Wales. So, Minister, can I press you to work with me and colleagues from north-east Wales to ensure that happens, because health conditions know no borders and neither should the health service?
Yes, thank you for the question and the opportunity to discuss this matter in some more detail earlier today with colleagues from north-east Wales. There has been some progress on arrangements with the English system. As you know, not just in the part of Wales that you represent, but in other parts, there's a regular flow for hospital treatment in particular. And the challenge has arisen over the way that tariff payments work within the English system. Now, not everyone here will be familiar with the tariff, but it's a way in which providers of health services in England are paid, and there's a rate that's set. The new rate set for England includes elements that appear to have been covered by consequential payments into the Welsh and English systems. If we simply agree to pay that amount, then we're essentially double-funding parts of the English system, including, for example, with the pay award. Now, that won't mean much to people who simply want certainty about how they're going to be treated, and I certainly want to see progress. I've had several direct conversations with UK Ministers on this, my officials have been directly engaged, there are further meetings taking place this week between the two Governments and, indeed, individual actors within the system in Wales and England.
I too want to see an interim agreement that allows us to carry on with the longer term challenges, not just an agreement with the Countess of Chester, but with every provider of cross-border healthcare, and to make sure we have something that will last in the future years as well. And, on that, there is some progress in having a Welsh voice around the table when English providers are setting new tariff arrangements, but it'll still not be our choice about what those arrangements are. I want something that works here in England and Wales, and, obviously, there are similar considerations for other nations in the UK as well. So, I will continue to update you on the progress that we are making, but this should not have happened. It is in direct contravention of the cross-border protocol that provides that both countries will act in the interest of the patient at all times and there'll be no delay in accessing healthcare services whilst commissioning responsibilities are clarified. I hope that message is heard in the Countess of Chester and that your constituents will not be placed in the position they are today.
7. Will the Minister make a statement on the provision of pain management services for those who suffer from chronic pain conditions in mid Wales? OAQ53762
Yes. The Welsh Government continues to work with health boards and partners across Wales to improve services for people living with persistent pain. We're working with relevant health boards to ensure that alternative pathways are in place for those patients affected by the closure of the pain management service in the Oswestry hospital.
Thank you, Minister. For patients in Montgomeryshire, I have been and am still receiving reports from constituents who have not been informed of their options for pain management following the closure that you talked about of the Oswestry orthopaedic hospital. There does seem to be very poor communication from Powys Teaching Health Board about their options for future pain management. Can I ask you to commit to working with Powys Teaching Health Board to ensure that patients do receive timely communication about their future healthcare pathways? Further to that, patients in Montgomeryshire with chronic pain conditions do need provision within north Powys. Can I ask you to work with Powys Teaching Health Board to ensure that that is actually the case?
Yes, I'm happy to confirm that my understanding is that the health board have written to each patient who has been transferred back from the hospital in Oswestry—
And that they can—that they have now written to every patient, because I understand that had not taken place previously, and the health board issue an apology because of that. Of course, patients can contact the Powys pain management service itself if they do remain concerned, or of course contact local representatives. Some pain clinics are already offered in north Powys and the health board plans to introduce further services. I'll also be issuing a future written statement to confirm new guidance for pain management services in Wales in the very near future.FootnoteLink
And, finally, question 8. Suzy Davies.
8. Will the Minister confirm the number of occasions that ambulances have been kept waiting at hospitals in South Wales West for more than 10 minutes before being able to discharge their patient? OAQ53755
We don't collect data on the basis of a 10-minute wait before discharge. We have measures that start with a 15-minute period of time. But I expect all patients who arrive by ambulance at a hospital facility to be transferred to the care of hospital staff in order of clinical priority and in a timely manner to support positive patient outcomes and experience.
Thank you for that answer. Following a freedom of information request to the Welsh ambulance service, I was shocked to find that the average time that an ambulance waits outside Bridgend Princess of Wales Hospital before handover of the patient is one hour and five minutes above the target time that you have just described. This information also showed that the longest waiting times in the last three months—the longest one was a staggering 16 hours and 39 minutes above the target handover time, with the next longest being 14 hours, then 11 hours, and then 10 hours. To compare with that, the average at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital is just nine minutes over the target set for handovers. These hospitals are now in the same local health board area. The ambulance trust has been ring-fencing resources for this work in Cwm Taf since 2015, and you can see the difference. Have you asked the trust why this is not being rolled out everywhere?
It will be for the new Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board to ensure they're providing a consistent service across the whole footprint. This is one of the issues about a change in culture, practice and leadership and how it will affect all parts of the whole organisation, including the Bridgend portion that has been brought into the new Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board. So, I do expect to see further improvement. I expect further improvement in handovers and in understanding and listening to patients about their experience of what makes a difference with and for them. Because, plainly, the extremely long waits that you quote in your question are certainly not acceptable.
Thank you, Minister.
No topical questions were accepted today.
Therefore, we move to the 90-second statements. The first statement is from Mick Antoniw.
Thank you, Llywydd. Today is 1 May, International Workers' Day, and Sunday was international Workers' Memorial Day. On both of these dates, we recognise the contribution and sacrifice of working people across the world to our economy and society and their global struggle for social justice and equality.
In Wales, this commemoration is particularly pertinent as we recall the sacrifice of life and health of our miners, steelworkers, industrial and public sector workers and their trade unions, who are the bedrock of our communities and shaped the values of our society. Every year, more people across the world are killed at work than in wars. Most don't die of mystery ailments or in freak accidents— they die because an employer decided that their safety just wasn't that important, a priority.
Workers' Memorial Day is held annually on 28 April and commemorates these workers and those disabled, injured or otherwise made unwell through work. Trade unions across the world organise events, vigils and other activities to mark the day.
The slogan for Workers' Memorial Day is 'Remember the dead—fight for the living', and it reminds us not only of those who have paid the ultimate price for helping to create a nation's wealth but that such tragedies need not happen and that it is only by campaigning for the development of effective health and safety legislation, enforcement of existing laws and penalties and breaches, that this aspiration can be made a reality, and by putting people before profit.
In Wales, 54 workers' deaths due to accidents at work were recorded over the last five years. However, many hundreds more continue to die each year in Wales from work-related diseases, such as asbestosis, pneumoconiosis and other lung diseases and cancers. International Workers' Day is an opportunity to reflect on the ongoing struggles of working people for decent jobs, decent conditions, equality and social justice. Here in Wales, this Assembly must remain at the forefront of this struggle.
I would like to congratulate the Rhondda-based Cory Band for taking first place at the forty-second European Brass Band Championships in Montreux, Switzerland, over the weekend. This triumph was the sixth time they have won the competition since 2008, with a number of second and third placings during the same time period. The victory has cemented their position as the greatest brass band in the world, a fact recognised by the international ranking system, and I'm proud that we have such musical excellence in the Rhondda.
A little bit of history about the band: they originally bore the name 'Ton Temperance'. In 1895, the name was changed to 'Cory Workingmen's Band' after receiving financial assistance from coal exporter Clifford Cory. This name was later shortened to the Cory Band. In 1923, they played for the BBC, which is believed to be the first time that a brass band was broadcast on the radio. Since then, they've gone from strength to strength and they've been recognised as the best in the world for 13 years.
Being the best in the world and maintaining that position takes a lot of talent, hard work and dedication. The Cory Band are a real inspiration, not just in the Rhondda, but all across Wales and further. They've shown what can be achieved when you set your mind to it. But being the best in the world also requires money. So, if there is anyone out there who would like to help the Cory Band financially, please check out their website or contact me for further information. I'm sure they would be more than delighted to receive your support. Diolch yn fawr.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) took the Chair.
Item 5 on the agenda is a debate on the Public Accounts Committee's report on the Welsh Government's relationship with Pinewood, and I call on the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee to move the motion. Nick Ramsay.
Motion NDM7039 Nick Ramsay
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
Notes the Report of the Public Accounts Committee—'The Welsh Government's relationship with Pinewood'—which was laid in the Table Office on 14 February 2019.
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Rightly, the announcement of the arrival of Pinewood in Cardiff in 2014 was met with excitement and anticipation that such a world-renowned brand was coming to Wales and could bring an estimated £90 million to the Welsh economy and boost the Welsh film industry on an international level. Pinewood’s arrival offered opportunity and hope but, just four years later, the Welsh Government decided to terminate the lease and collaboration agreement it had in place with the company. The studio and the running of the media investment fund was brought under direct Welsh Government control. So what happened? What caused this love story to turn into a tragedy?
Well, to be honest, it really was a comedy of errors. The Welsh Government entered into a contract that lacked clarity in terms of operating arrangements and a collaboration agreement that did not explicitly make clear the roles and responsibilities of each partner. Not only was there a lack of clarity on the financial and economic returns expected through these agreements, but also a seeming lack of recognition about the conflict of interest caused by the arrangements. The Welsh Government entered into an agreement with a Pinewood subsidiary to manage the £30 million media investment budget, but officials failed to record or advise their Minister about the potential conflict of interest arising from Pinewood administering this budget and also providing its own London-based services to the industry.
We were told that the media investment panel was set up to mitigate this risk. We concluded that this was insufficient mitigation, not least as the perception of an advantage for Pinewood still existed across the industry and that this was a wider conflict than the individual projects being considered.
Alongside these poor contractual arrangements, there appears to be a significant lack of due diligence. The Welsh Government chose to purchase a site for the studio that consisted of three very different and unusual assets costing £6 million, and failed to commission a full structural survey beforehand. Most people have a structural survey before buying a house, but this was a £6 million purchase for which the Welsh Government were satisfied with a valuation report and the fact the site was being sold by an institutional investor.
Yet, as we saw, essential repairs to the roof were not identified prior to purchase, which led to significant costs being incurred. To compound all of this, Welsh Government officials were not aware of any requirement to make good the grade II listed property on the site and had no intention to do anything to this unless instructed to, which are not exactly the actions you might expect from those with oversight responsibility for Cadw, who should, surely, be an exemplar owner of listed buildings. Although, interestingly, this building has recently been de-listed by Cadw, all of this seems to suggest, at best, a significant degree of naivety within the Welsh Government.
Further evidence of this naivety is evidenced by the lack of clarity around the value of the works carried out by Pinewood to improve the building. We were surprised and concerned that the Welsh Government were unaware of what had been completed by the company when the Welsh Government took back ownership of the site and even more concerned that there was no detail of the value of works specified in the agreement to lease the site, and that the Welsh Government were unaware that this information, agreed in the heads of terms, had not been transposed into the contract with Pinewood.
The result of all this means that there was a lack of clarity about who was responsible for which improvements and that this, ultimately, had a negative impact on the public purse—where the Public Accounts Committee came in—as there could have been no evaluation of the value for money gained. I return once again to the theme of naivety. This appeared to the committee to be a basic error in the contract negotiations—the original contract negotiations.
We agreed, as a committee, to reserve judgement on whether the deal with Pinewood has represented value for money, as we recognise that commercial investment in the film and television industry is, by its very nature, precarious and that it can take many years to realise the economic benefits. We believe there is a balance to be struck between investing public money to maximise investment in Wales and the risk this incurs, but these risks must be managed and the decision-making and governance arrangements around them need to be robust and rigorously informed.
We welcome the Welsh Government’s response to our report, in which the Welsh Government accepts eight out of nine of our recommendations and sets out the work it has undertaken to ensure lessons are learned from the Pinewood experience and shared, as well as implementing new procedures and guidance, to prevent similar shortcomings occurring again.
However, we note that its response to recommendations 3, 4 and 5, which relate to issues of conflicts of interest, is specific to Pinewood, while the spirit of our recommendations related to the mitigation of conflicts of interest more broadly across all of the Welsh Government’s interactions with private sector business. This a matter we will follow up shortly as part of the committee’s work on the Welsh Government's financial support for business.
We also note that although the Welsh Government has rejected recommendation 8 of our report, it agrees with the general principle of the recommendation and has begun work to develop a best practice guide to acquisitions undertaken in the name of Welsh Ministers. We will keep a watching brief over compliance with this guidance once it has been introduced to ensure it is implemented and works effectively.
Dirprwy Lywydd, in summing up, it is unfortunate that Pinewood, like several other Welsh Government projects before it, including Kancoat and, indeed, the Circuit of Wales, has fallen foul to the Welsh Government’s lack of due diligence in certain respects: poor governance arrangements; as we saw it, ill-informed decision making; and a basic overall lack of transparency and a lack of clarity, particularly when it came to the formulation of those original contracts.
It was just last year that the Public Accounts Committee reported on the Welsh Government’s initial funding of the Circuit of Wales project, highlighting the need for decision-making processes followed by those charged with the expenditure of taxpayers’ money to be both coherent and properly documented. As with the Circuit of Wales, the Welsh Government’s relationship with Pinewood has involved some inexplicable decisions.
I do not know how many more times we'll have to debate the same reoccurring issues within the Welsh Government about a lack of due diligence and poor judgement. While the need to take measured risks is appreciated by all of us here, the need to be responsible with public funds must be paramount. It's essential that, moving forward, the Welsh Government learns from its past experiences and must demonstrate categorically once and for all that lessons have been learnt with regard to its approach to funding private business in Wales.
It's useful to reflect on this story that we've been debating for the last nine months. It's undoubtedly the case that the former Government economy Minister had very ambitious plans for expanding the film and television industry in Wales, and that in itself was laudable, but there wasn't sufficient thinking through of the potential conflicts of interest, which weren't considered properly when entering into a partnership with a multi-million pound company with global interests. The Welsh Government was a minnow by comparison with Pinewood, and, although it's not possible to conclude that the Welsh Government was taken for a ride, it's certainly the case that the checks and balances were not in place to ensure that that did not happen.
There was no survey of the building done before the purchase. A pig in a poke seems to me an inadequate response to a £6 million investment, and that remains a considerable concern. The advice given to Ministers was also absolutely silent on potential VAT liabilities, which was quite extraordinary under the circumstances. We did get some very robust assurances from civil servants that that was not going to happen again. But nor indeed was there any consideration of the liabilities that the Government was taking on by purchasing an asset that included a listed building. It's really not good enough for the Welsh Government, which has to enforce listed building status, to then be cavalier about the obligations that that requires of them as the owner of such property.
However, it would be curmudgeonly not to recognise the transformation that has occurred over the last five years in terms of Wales's status as a location for filmmaking and broadcasting. Would Bad Wolf studios have located to Wales at all if Pinewood studios had not existed? It's impossible to say, but it's very likely that that would not have occurred to them. We are now in the happy position that Bad Wolf studios has so many orders on its books that it's outgrown its own premises and is having to rely on the entire Pinewood studios over the next 12 months in order to accommodate all the work that they are undertaking. We also have the new BBC building, which is going to be one of the most iconic broadcasting centres across the UK and, indeed, across the world once it opens in Central Square in Cardiff Central. We also have many, many more awards being won by S4C, ITV and the BBC for their drama and documentary productions, and all of this is a huge positive for the Welsh economy.
But we do need to build on that success by ensuring that, in our contracts that we enter into, we are insisting that a proportion of the subcontracting is done with Welsh companies, and that will enable us to build on the fact that Wales is indeed recognised as a place to go for both location filming and as post-production. But we need to ensure that, for example, if we've got talented actors in Wales, which I'm sure we have, they don't need to go to London in order to be auditioning for roles. There's no particular reason why that can't occur here. We don't need Wales to be seen as an outpost of London when it comes to considering film and television. We certainly have the opportunity to do that to ensure that Wales has its own international success in this regard, but we have some more work to do to ensure that we have the full gamut of skills and that that is recognised across the world.
The announcement of the arrival of Pinewood in Cardiff five years ago was met with excitement and anticipation. It was hoped that the brand would bring an estimated benefit of £9 million to the Welsh economy. Hopes were raised that the opportunity provided would boost the Welsh film industry on an international level, and yet, only four years later, all hopes were dashed when the Welsh Government decided to terminate the lease and the collaboration agreement it had with the company. Does this sound familiar? It should. Last year, we debated another project that was widely welcomed as it presented an opportunity to regenerate one of the most economically deprived areas of Wales. The Circuit of Wales project failed due to officials making basic errors, omissions and exercising poor judgement. Once again, hopes were raised and then dashed by the Welsh Government's botched handling of an important project.
The Public Accounts Committee report into the Circuit of Wales called for robust and effective governance and internal communication channels to guarantee that such issues do not occur again. However, in relation to Pinewood, the committee was surprised to find the Welsh Government entered into a contract that lacked clarity in terms of operating arrangements. The collaboration arrangements also failed to explicitly make clear the roles and responsibilities of each partner. Most worryingly, the committee was concerned about the inaccurate, incomplete and poor quality of advice provided to Ministers on more than one occasion. In oral evidence, Welsh Government said that an independent evaluation was carried out before the building at Wentloog was acquired, but subsequently it became clear that the reported condition of the building was inconsistent with the need to undertake essential repairs to the roof of the building, which was found to be leaking. I find it incredible that the Welsh Government took a decision not to commission a structural surveyor to survey the building prior to the purchase, which is a common practice in any business or property when you buy. The Welsh Government made an assumption that the building would have been maintained to a reasonable standard because it was being sold by an international or institutional investor. This is totally unacceptable, Deputy Presiding Officer. I note the Welsh Government has rejected the committee's recommendation with regards to acquiring surveys. We can only hope the best practice guide we are told is currently being developed will address this issue.
Another example of a lack of due diligence became clear regarding the issue of VAT on the sponsorship agreement. Under the agreement, the Welsh Government would pay Pinewood £438,000 a year to market and promote the studio. Shortly after the agreement was signed, it was noticed the VAT had been omitted. This increased the annual cost of sponsorship by £87,600 and it became £525,000 in total. This failure to obtain specialist advice on VAT implications demonstrates a lack of capacity within the Welsh Government to ensure that the development of proposals to enter into non-standard commercial agreements with private companies is sufficiently robust.
Presiding Officer, throughout their time in office, the Welsh Government's record has been littered with poor decisions that have lost the taxpayer money in such a wasteful manner: the Circuit of Wales project, land sales by the regeneration investment fund for Wales, Kancoat, Natural Resources Wales. As Nick Ramsay, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee has said in his foreword to this report, it is essential that Welsh Government learns from its past experiences and demonstrates that lessons have been learned with regards to its approach to funding for private businesses. We can only hope it does. Thank you.
I wanted to thank the Public Accounts Committee for conducting this report. I wanted to participate in this debate in my role as Chair of the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee.
We first looked into this issue as part of our inquiry into film and major television production in Wales last year, before we passed this issue to the Public Accounts Committee for further scrutiny. We held two sessions with the Deputy Minister for Culture, Tourism and Sport and the Minister for Economy and Transport. It was clear that there were specific problems with this project from the beginning. Throughout, the aim was admirable, but the execution was pretty poor. Obviously, we want Wales to host a world-class studio facility, as has already been said, and we are fully supportive of efforts to raise Wales's profile internationally in the film industry. However, the advice provided to the Government was based on a model that was never suited to this country. As has been said, the purchase of the site was done without a full structural survey; this, we were told, limited its use to television, not film production. As the report from the Public Accounts Committee says, the contract with Pinewood
'lacked clarity in terms of operating arrangements,'
and the collaboration agreement
'did not...make clear the roles and responsibilities of each partner.'
Almost every aspect of the project, from the location to the management agreement to the estimated annual returns, has since been shown to be deficient.
Aside from the problems with the building and the contract, which were of great concern to the committee, I want to mention the lack of transparency from the Deputy Minister. The Welsh Government refused to disclose details of its relationship with Pinewood, citing commercial sensitivity. However, the Wales Audit Office report, published in July of last year, only omitted one monetary figure—the value of the management fee. The committee was disappointed that it appeared that commercial sensitivity was being used to avoid hard questions about value for money. The whole nature of our discourse with the Deputy Minister was unsatisfactory. For instance, we questioned whether there were plans to renovate the Grade II listed farmhouse building on the site purchased by the Government, and the response from the Deputy Minister was, only if forced to by a planning inspector or Cadw. Surely, we can expect more from the Cabinet member in charge of safeguarding our heritage.
In January 2018, the Deputy Minister told my colleague Adam Price that, and I quote:
'It is not accurate to say that we as a Government are paying Pinewood'.
However, as the Wales Audit Office report makes clear, in November 2017 the Welsh Government entered into an agreement with Pinewood whereby the costs of running the facility, together with payment of a Pinewood management fee, would now be met in full by the Welsh Government. We remain concerned that, despite requests for information from various Assembly Members, had it not been for this report by the Wales Audit Office, this information would still not be in the public domain, and Assembly Members and the Welsh public would still be in the dark.
We need to know that the Welsh Government is committed to making their investment in film and major television productions a success. So far, their dealings with Pinewood have been riddled with amateur mistakes, which we are told are the subject of a lessons learnt report, distributed to the rest of Welsh Government, but which are so basic they shouldn't have been made in the first place.
During our inquiry, we found that the media investment budget was seriously under-performing. We never received a clear answer to our question about whether the estimated annual revenues from the agreement with Pinewood had been revised to reflect the actual performance of the collaboration agreement. In March, I asked the Deputy Minister for an update on the media investment budget, and was told that one would be provided in December, as part of a response to the PAC recommendations. This means that there has been no up-to-date information on the media investment budget since June of last year. Our stakeholders in the industry deserve to know the rate of return on investments made with public money sooner than that.
We are pleased to hear that the studio space is now being rented to Bad Wolf, but I would like the Deputy Minister to tell us the latest figures for spending and return on investment from the media investment budget, what is the rental income being received from Bad Wolf, and how does this compare with any ongoing costs incurred by the Welsh Government. And can the Deputy Minister state clearly whether the Wentloog site is now operating at a profit to the Welsh Government or not? This information is important to understand the value of money from our financial commitment to this one project. But the overall lack of transparency we experienced in our dealings with the Welsh Government are continuing to frustrate our inquiries into how best the Government can support and maintain this vibrant industry. We hope that, from now on, the Welsh Government will be far more transparent about its relationship with Bad Wolf, and it doesn't require an audit office report to bring to light important details of public spending decisions.
Can I just start by offering my heartfelt thanks to the Public Accounts Committee for accepting the invitation from the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee to pursue further inquiries into Welsh Government's relationship with Pinewood? It's an excellent report. I don't even know where I want to start on it, but I think I'll start with the point that you were talking about, Bethan, which is about transparency, because I think that's pertinent to Government as a whole.
After, like everybody else, welcoming the Government's initial announcement about the new arrangement with Pinewood, and after about a year or so, I asked some fairly anodyne questions about progress and key performance indicators, by way of routine scrutiny really. Edwina Hart's responses were short and as uninformative as we'd come to expect at that point, but even then commercial confidentiality was making an appearance. We were hearing nothing about these arrangements for bringing £90 million into the economy. By March 2017, which is some years later, the then leader of the house, in response to my requests, said that a statement would be forthcoming. Nothing happened.
I'm not going to rehearse all this, but I then went on to ask a range of questions, not even clear at this stage about the difference between the media investment budget and the Screen Wales budget—so little information was there available on the various websites—and what I got were incomplete or very delayed responses, again peppered with references to commercial confidentiality. And by now, I was sharing my disquiet with other Members. I’d even contacted the Information Commissioner when freedom of information requests were refused. Long story short, the Chair—Bethan—of the culture committee was in agreement that this needed further investigation, and I'm very grateful to you for taking that opportunity.
Because it now emerges that by 2016, when I'd started to ask these questions, a huge amount of worrying and expensive change had been taking place in that relationship. The smouldering conflict of interest had ignited and the financial forecasts were way off and nobody knew about it. Despite further questions from myself and Adam Price, it was only, as we know, when the auditor general became involved last year that this was exposed in any way at all.
I want the Welsh Government to know that we do understand and respect commercial confidentiality. But Ministers need to respect their duty to be candid when scrutinised by this Assembly, and they may also want to remember that some of us might be familiar with the concept of commercial confidentiality from our previous lives. I know exactly what it means. The Welsh Government is not Harry Potter. It does not have an invisibility cloak and it must stop treating commercial confidentiality as if it is one.
At no point, until committee scrutiny, did a Minister or Deputy Minister offer the explanation that Pinewood had vetoed answers to questions, because if they had, I and others could have considered redacted answers, for example. And while there is no recommendation on commercial confidentiality in this report, I look forward to the committee's findings after its forthcoming inquiry into Government support for business.
Talking of previous lives, I was very pleased that the committee looked further at the lack of a building survey of the studio building and the lack of a schedule of works covering tenants' improvements. Where is the Government's evidence that spending £1 million on this roof would have added equivalent value to this holding? How did it not hear alarm bells that having the cottage on site was a liability when the seller insisted on it being part of the sales package? I am pretty sure that had I advised clients in this way, when I was in private practice, with an acquisition of this nature, with what we know of the contract, there would have been a claim against my firm by the buyer, possibly the lender, and I'm pretty sure that I would have been sacked. And I am curious to know who was carrying the can in this instance.
Because what confidence can we now have, on hearing that Welsh Government has just bought a warehouse to store medication in case we have a 'no deal' Brexit? How can we be sure that they've even made sure the place is watertight? And, again, why can we not be told the terms on which Welsh Government has acquired that warehouse? I think I can feel Ministers reaching for that invisibility cloak again.
As it happens, I agree with the Government’s rejection of recommendation 8. A building survey needs to be sought on buildings of values lower than £1 million, even if they are due to be demolished, because that’s how you identify issues that will be material to estimating the costs of demolition. So, I'm hoping perhaps the Welsh Government would accept that recommendation.
I think what we've all learned from this sorry tale is that it's not just Jeremy Corbyn that presents donkeys and unicorns as thoroughbreds. When you present your next money-making race winner, Ministers, you'd better prove its pedigree upfront. And when you engage in bespoke arrangements—and let's remember that the Bad Wolf deal is a bespoke arrangement—please make sure that you have procured the necessary negotiating expertise. A director of Bad Wolf, herself a former Government insider, said that capacity was lacking in that department. And Jenny, you're quite right, if you're dealing with Darth Vader, you don't send Bambi in to negotiate the deal.
So, finally, you have been held firmly to account here, Welsh Government. I want to hear today that you will accept responsibility for this, and then demonstrate your accountability. Thank you.
Can I now call the Deputy Minister for Culture, Tourism and Sport, Dafydd Elis-Thomas?
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer, and I thank the committee Chair for the courteous and reasonable way he presented his report, and we do very much appreciate the content of this report and I'm pleased that he accepts that we, as a Government, have responded to each and every one of the recommendations, with the exception of one. We have set out clearly in the letter that I sent to the committee, and in what I said in evidence, how we intend to act in order to put right the errors made in the past. To be entirely clear, we accept the criticism, clearly, that has been made by the committee. This is the purpose of scrutiny by the Public Accounts Committee and, indeed, the relevant subject committee covering culture too.
I'm also pleased that Jenny Rathbone and others have noted the importance of this sector for Wales. It happens to be a happy coincidence, for me, at least, that I am responding to this negative report, as it were, the day after I made a statement on Creative Wales. I will say a few more words about that before the end of my contribution.
We have seen the substantial growth, with an annual turnover of around £2 billion in this sector in Wales, which employs over 58,000 people, and that there are 50 per cent more people working in the industry now than was the case 10 years ago. I'm very pleased that Members recognise the importance of that.
The ability to maintain studio infrastructure is a key part of any strategy for this sector. I was very clearly reminded of that in my meeting with NBC Universal recently in the Vale of Glamorgan. There is an appreciation of the buildings that we currently have and companies do see the possibilities for further development.
Wales is now a centre of excellence for high-end tv drama and film and we recognise that there is a strong selection available for production that can compete with any other part of the UK, including, of course, London and the Thames valley, which is so expensive in comparison.
I did outline the priorities for the creative industries yesterday through Creative Wales, and therefore I will refer to that before I respond to some of the comments that have been made. Creative Wales will be a means of ensuring that the Welsh Government does engender growth in the future. There will be sufficient expertise in order to deal with the sector. There will be proper procurement of staff and board members, as well as a chair, who will be entirely accountable in dealing with the creative industries. I do accept, as one who has occasionally worked with the creative sector since the 1980s, that different skills are required in dealing with media businesses and businesses involved with creative activities than would be required in dealing with other kinds of business. And therefore, if there has been a shortage of expertise and understanding of the nature of funding for development in the creative industries, then it’s certainly my intention that Creative Wales will take advantage of appropriate advice within Government and particularly outwith Government in terms of the expertise we will seek to recruit for Creative Wales.
It's important to say, as has already been stated in the debate—to return to Pinewood—that we did gain value for our culture and our economy, as well as our creative industries, through establishing the name of Pinewood here in Wales. The brand has helped to ensure that Wales is a credible location for film and tv production, and that has been clearly demonstrated through the work that's already been done. But the lessons have been learnt and I'm pleased that the committee accepts what we have said in that regard. The lessons include learning the difference that needs to be drawn between the models for film studios in Wales and the rest of the UK, and how we can share the broader benefits in the economy and the commercial gains. And these lessons will be available to Creative Wales when it becomes operational over the next months.
But it’s important to state that our relationship with Pinewood has ensured that over £45 million has been spent on film and tv production in Wales. We believe that it is appropriate to appropriate £21.5 billion of this directly to funding from the media investment budget on behalf of the Government, over £13.7 million to projects from Pinewood, and some £7.8 million remaining for the Welsh Government once Pinewood withdrew from the investment budget on 31 October 2017.
Of course, we have said that there will be a further update on the financial performance and the forecast for income, and that will be provided to the committee in December. We are certain that this is the appropriate time to do that, in accordance with recommendations 2 and 6 in the committee’s report. Also, of course, considering the VAT implications is a matter that we have taken action on with a team specialising in VAT within the Welsh Government, so that such an obvious mistake doesn't happen again. And the work has already started to develop, as we heard, the best-practice guidance for procurement that will be made in the name of Welsh Ministers. And those lessons are being learnt across Government. That guidance will endorse and echo the current guidance in place and ensure that we use best practice in making procurement with the appropriate transparency and due diligence across Government, accepting the restrictions that do arise from questions of confidentiality that is truly commercially sensitive—the point made by Suzy Davies.
Our grant funding arrangements, which include most of our arrangements with third parties, come under the grant terms and conditions, which outline the responsibilities of both parties clearly. The relationship with Pinewood, as has been said, is an unusual example, given the particular nature of the establishment of this programme. We accept that the mistakes that were made because of the specialist nature of dealing with this company are ones that we have to learn from for the future, and that we must have an approach to the creative sector that is appropriate to the sector and fit for purpose, so that we don’t have to make exceptions of individual companies in the present or in the future, as we have done in the past. In the future, if we do need purpose-built arrangements to define arrangements between parties, then we must ensure that additional professional advice is sought, as I mentioned earlier, in order to ensure that the assessments are robust, as the committee has recommended.
In terms of surveys of properties over £1 million being procured, although we accept the general principle, there will be cases where surveys won't be appropriate, for example where a building is being bought for demolition. We accept as Government that we have noted the broader potential for conflict of interest in the future, and that we will ensure that when officials identify problems, they will be highlighted to Ministers immediately. It’s possible that that didn’t happen swiftly enough, as we have accepted and set out in this report.
Assistance for this sector in the future will include, as I said yesterday in my statement on Creative Wales, an emphasis on fair work and skills promotion, which is part of our economic action plan. Also, an economic contract on the economic action plan will accompany the synergy between the cultural and the creative industries, and will mean that we will be able to see the economic benefits, the social benefits and the cultural benefits together. And that means that there will be more social responsibility towards the sector in the future.
Can I ask the Deputy Minister to wind up?
Yes. Finally, I would like to say, the arrangements with Bad Wolf have been referred to—
The arrangements with Bad Wolf on the rental of the vacant space in Pinewood is operational for the next 12 months, and the production work is ongoing, and the current buildings are all at capacity. That doesn't justify what happened in the past, but it does demonstrate the clear intention of the Government to be effective in this area. Thank you.
Diolch. Can I ask Nick Ramsay to reply to the debate?
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Can I thank all Members who've contributed to today's debate and thank the Deputy Minister as well for his comments, and everyone for raising a number of important points? I think I should point out as well that the committee recognises that some of these issues date back a fairly considerable length of time and, obviously, the Deputy Minister wasn't in post at that time, but a number of officials were and we were pleased to take evidence from them and to make our recommendations.
If I can just touch on some of the comments that were made by Members who contributed. Jenny Rathbone, you touched on the VAT issue—I didn't really mention that in my opening remarks, so I'm glad that you raised it because it was an important point that featured in our report. We have seen other instances in Welsh Government projects where VAT hasn't been effectively taken into consideration. I know the situation arose with the early M4 discussions as well. So, that's an area where the Welsh Government has to get it right and they have to build up their expertise in that area, because, let's face it, VAT is a pretty basic component of all our lives, actually, and certainly of Welsh Government life, so it's something that does need to be brought up to speed, and I'm pleased to hear the comments from the Deputy Minister in that regard.
As you've said, actually, Jenny, it was generous that you said that the Welsh Government could be accused of trying to be too ambitious back in 2014 when the original contracts were signed with Pinewood. This was groundbreaking territory. It's an area that, as Mohammad Asghar said, was greeted with great excitement from Government and from people across Wales. It's a great thing for us to be involved on the international stage with the tv and film industry and I think everyone would wish that project well. Of course, as we know with hindsight now, it wasn't as rosy in the garden as it seemed at the time, and, sadly, that relationship ended a few years later without the dividends that were promised. But there was an initial hope, and hopefully that flame can be reignited in the future.
We all accept that this isn't an easy area to operate in; it can take several years for benefits of this sort of venture to be realised, but that definitely didn't happen in this case, when that relationship was terminated, so those lessons do need to be learnt.
Mohammad Asghar spoke about the listed building issue. Yes, there should've been a survey in this case—of course there should've been. I think everyone recognises that now. I do understand the reasons for the Welsh Government's rejection of our recommendation. Yes, there may be times when, if a building is going to be demolished, a survey would be a waste of money, so that wouldn't be necessary, or, indeed, the opposite of that, where there may be a case for a survey where purchases are smaller than £1 million. What we are saying is that, however the Welsh Government does it—[Interruption.]—I'll bring you in now, Mike. However the Welsh Government does it, we want to see that process happen so that the right decisions are made at the time. Mike Hedges.
I was going to say, but, surely, if you're going to demolish it, you do need a survey to find out if there's asbestos or other things in the building, which would increase the cost of demolition.
Yes, I think the issue here is that there are going to be individual circumstances in each case, and what we've agreed on as a committee is that the procedures in place in the Welsh Government should be robust enough so that those individual circumstances can be taken into account, so that if there's any suggestion that a survey is needed, it should happen, and if a survey can be completely ruled out, then that can happen as well. But, clearly, something went wrong in this case. But, thanks, Mike.
Bethan Sayed, I know your committee did a fair bit of work in this area. We were happy to take up the request to look further at it, as you know, from the public interest—in terms of the public value-for-money point of view. I'm glad that you referred it to us. You made an interesting point in your contribution that the model being relied on by the Welsh Government wasn't suited to Wales. I'm not sure whether we did make that point in our report—it was hinted at in our evidence—but I think it's an issue that is probably at the heart of this, actually, that, certainly, if we're going to try and undertake these ventures in the future in encouraging the film and tv industry in Wales, then it's important that the model that's being used is suited to Wales. We often talk about devolution bringing benefit from being suited to Wales, but it does seem to be, as we plough further into devolution, that sometimes we're not using models that are suitable, so that's an area that needs to be looked at, so I'm glad you raised it. Welsh Government perhaps shouldn't be expected to have all the necessary experience and expertise in these areas at the outset of this sort of venture, but they need to have the capacity to know where the gaps are and to try and fill that knowledge.
Suzy Davies, again, you were concerned about the lack of transparency and the issue of commercial confidentiality, which crops up again and again in our debates in this building. I think you said it is not a cloak of invisibility, and you mentioned Harry Potter as well, continuing the film and media references. Well said, Suzy. Yes, we need to make sure that the cloak of invisibility, that commercial confidentiality isn't used in that way and that it's used in ways that are appropriate.
Can I thank the Deputy Minister for his very encouraging response today, and for the way he responded to the recommendations—indeed, for the Welsh Government acceptance of most of our recommendations? As I said, I recognise there are logical reasons for the rejection of recommendation 8, but I would respectfully ask that the spirit of that recommendation is adhered to in the future and all the points I made earlier—that the Welsh Government knows if a survey is needed, if it isn't needed, and we're not in this position again in the future.
Can I thank the Minister as well for his reference to Creative Wales? I won't go too much into this, because you made a statement on that yesterday, and that's an example of a strategy that's being pursued and being developed at the moment, so that's exactly the sort of area where we would hope that the lessons that are being learned here don't just go into a document on a dusty shelf somewhere, but they're actually incorporated into current, modern policy making, so that what we all want—improvement in the situation in the future—does actually happen.
So, in summary, Deputy Presiding Officer, can I thank everyone who contributed to today's debate, to the Members of the Assembly, also members, specifically, of the culture committee, who have brought a valuable aspect to today's debate? Can I also thank the Deputy Minister for his response? There are wider issues at stake here, or, rather, lessons to be learned across the whole of the Welsh Government, not just in one department, and there is a balance to be struck. We certainly, as a committee, didn't want to see creativity stifled, we certainly didn't want to shut the door on future film and tv opportunities for Wales and productions being made here in Wales and, indeed, here in Cardiff. So, we were very careful in the way that we framed the report, and I hope that that has been appreciated. But that balance does have to be struck right. At the end of the day, the taxpayer's interests also have to be safeguarded and we need to make sure in the future that when these sorts of decisions are undertaken, there is the right experience, the right expertise—if not there at the start, brought in-house into the Welsh Government—so that the Welsh taxpayer can have confidence that public money is being effectively spent.
Thank you. The proposal is to note the committee's report. Does any Member object? No. Therefore, the motion is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Item 6 on our agenda this afternoon is a debate on the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee report, 'Wales' future relationship with Europe and the world', and I call on the Chair of the committee to move the motion—David Rees.
Motion NDM7038 David Rees
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
Notes the report of the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee on its Inquiry into Wales’ future relationship with Europe and the World, which was laid in the Table Office on 21 February 2019.
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. I'm pleased to open today’s debate, noting our report on Wales’s future relationship with Europe and the world, and therefore move the motion. Can I remind Members this is actually the second stage of our work, because we did, in 2018, publish a report, which was stage 1, that was focused on Europe, and this has gone wider to look at Europe and the world? Before I start my speech, can I just put on record my thanks to the clerking team and the staff in the Research Service and European office of the Commission for the work they have undertaken on behalf of the committee? Without those individuals, we are always going to be struggling, and we very much appreciate the efforts they put in.
In gathering the evidence for this report, we actually heard from academics and stakeholders, and we spent a lot of time thinking about Wales’s role on the international stage. Indeed, the Brexit process has brought new urgency and added impetus to this work, although we are now delayed a little bit on Brexit, and we've got a bit more time. But it is important we do look where we are in the future.
We looked beyond Wales, which is crucial, and spoke to representatives of Norway, the Basque Country, Quebec and Switzerland on our visits to London. We also spoke to representatives of Ukraine, of New Zealand, of Ireland and many other nations in visits to Brussels and beyond. Our sincerest thanks go to those individuals, who gave their time and commitment to listen to us, but also to feed into our inquiry on where they saw that future relationships can exist and how they worked in the relationships they wanted to do.
Now, our work found that, in the past, the Welsh Government's activities then, in terms of international engagement, had been too patchy in our view, and incoherent, and it is important that we see this change. We made a total of 11 recommendations in our report, and I am pleased that the Minister has indicated that they've accepted or accepted in principle all of them—though we always question that term 'accept in principle', sometimes. We'll see how that goes.
But, turning to the first couple of recommendations, it's abundantly clear that Wales needs a new strategy of how we engage with the world after Brexit, or, actually, how we engage with the world full stop. Brexit is just an example of why we need to do it. This new strategy needs to be bold. It needs to set out the scale of our ambition as a nation. We must not be frightened of going perhaps that one step further than we would conventionally do. In leading on the development of the new strategy, we welcome the creation of the new Minister for international relations, with a seat at the Cabinet. However, it is clear to us that many aspects of international relations are cross-portfolio, and therefore we want to actually see more examples of that: economy, environment, education portfolios. It is clear that it is not a single subject area.
We want the Minister to lead on that co-ordination across Government, and, in the report, we did recommend a Cabinet sub-committee. We acknowledge that the Minister says this could be an appropriate mechanism, but she alludes to the need for full Cabinet discussions on internationalisation. I fully acknowledge this, but how do we have a formal structure that ensures a cross-portfolio approach? That's the question. It's all well and good having this informal concept, but we need a formal structure, and that's why I want some further information from the Minister today on the progress towards co-ordinating activities across Government, in addition to the bilateral meetings she intends to have with those colleagues, but where is the formal structure where that happens?
Wales's future role in Europe after Brexit was a perennial issue during the course of our work. It is clear to us that, whatever the eventual shape and outcome of Brexit—and I say that now, 'whatever the shape of the outcome of Brexit', because we still don't know—Europe and our relationship with the European Union will continue to be important in the years ahead. It is for this reason that we support the retention of the Welsh Government offices in Brussels.
We also heard that Wales has historically enjoyed the benefits of a number of European programmes, such as the student mobility programme, Erasmus+, and the research and innovation programme, Horizon 2020. Currently, it is the Welsh Government's position to advocate continued participation in those programmes through the UK. We want this ambition to go further so that, if the UK Government fails to secure this, then the Welsh Government should go ahead and explore securing participation in its own right in devolved areas and where there are clear benefits to Wales. I think this week's example of the HE student fee issue highlights how the UK Government may not be in synchronisation with the Welsh Government's thinking on our relationship with the EU and EU citizens.
This is what we are calling for in recommendation 5: for the Welsh Government to actually explore and have exploratory talks, and to report back to this Assembly in the autumn term, and, with the autumn term including 31 October, which is now the new deadline, perhaps it's appropriate that we do that, because that's the next cliff edge that we face.
In addition to the multilateral relationships and networks that we enjoy, Wales also has a number of bilateral relationships, which will continue to form an important part in Wales's external engagement work in the future. During our work, we've found that the countries and sub-state actors across the international stage that operate most successfully have clearly prioritised bilateral relationships based on common interests. In particular, the approach of the Basque Country and of Quebec were examples that we could learn from, and I am fully aware that the Basque Country have been to this institution and that we have had committees that have gone over to the Basque Country. They are an example of where we may want to learn how they manage the relationships and particularly bilateral relationships, and how they've prioritised them.
Our recommendation 6 calls on the Welsh Government to review the bilateral relationships that Wales currently has, in order to assess which of them can be strengthened and deepened in the future. I am pleased that the Minister, in her written response, has signalled that this work is under way, and again it would be helpful if she can give the Assembly an indication of timescales for the completion of this work, so that we have an understanding of where we are and where we can expect to be in the times ahead of us. We all know that time is going to be a major factor in the future.
Turning to the question of our diaspora, we are clear that more can be done to make use of that diaspora. Although definitive figures do not exist, a study published in 2006—and I accept that's 13 years ago—suggested that as many as 11 million people have Welsh ancestry in the USA alone. Better engagement with the Welsh diaspora could be the key to unlocking some of Wales’s ambitions for international relations after Brexit. Again, I'm aware that the Welsh caucus in Washington is an example of where we could be using some of that.
Our report calls for the creation of an action plan for engaging that diaspora. However, the Minister’s written response suggests that the Welsh Government will not commit to this and instead is undertaking preliminary work to assess what is already happening in this area. I therefore ask the Minister to keep the committee updated on this work so that our ambitions can be realised.
Turning to recommendation 10, whilst I do not wish to repeat arguments made previously in the Assembly about the need to improve inter-governmental mechanisms, I would like to give the Minister an opportunity, if she has the ability—and I've raised this with the Brexit Minister—perhaps to improve on the limited detail available in her written response, in particular, if she could confirm a date for when the publication of the review of the JMC will be available to us, because it's almost a year—it's actually a year—since the review was undertaken and we are not yet clear of any date of publication of that review, and it is critical to understand how Wales can have an input into various aspects of international relations.
In terms of the Welsh Government’s overseas offices, we note the expansion in recent years of Wales’s presence abroad. However, it is vital that these offices know what they are doing and that their activities are in line with the forthcoming strategy. I note that the Minister’s response does not commit to an audit in the way that we have suggested. Perhaps she'd like to review that, because it is important we understand what is the purpose of the office, why is it where it is, how will we measure what it's doing, so that we can have a clear understanding that they are in the right place, doing the right thing for Wales.
Finally, I’d like to talk a little about Welsh soft power—this is to say Wales’s cultural and economic influence around the world. We heard that some of Wales’s unique assets—our language, our arts, our values—could be better used to carve out a niche for ourselves on the world stage. We have seen other nations such as Scotland and Ireland do exactly that. To achieve this we need to be clearer about what our unique selling points are and develop those in a way that gains international recognition. To that end, we recommended that the new international strategy places a greater emphasis on soft power. I am pleased that the Minister has accepted the need for this. I think it was evident when we were Brussels last how UK representation looked at Wales's soft power mechanisms as an example of how they may want to do that when we leave the EU.
Dirprwy Lywydd, we are facing a period of seemingly accelerating flux and change across the world. Perhaps now is the time for us in Wales to redouble our efforts and to work together to ensure that our voice is heard on the international stage much louder than it has been. I commend this report to the National Assembly, and look forward to hearing the contribution of other Members today.
I thank the Chair for his leadership of our work in this area and the clerks for their support. I look forward to hearing from the Minister. Some people, I think, have questioned our participative approach of asking for ideas, but I think it is a good one and I would like to commend it. Although on the first day in office you haven't come to us with a list of what you'll be doing, you're having this period of listening and consulting others, and I think that's a very valid approach and I look forward to seeing the outcome from it, hopefully including consideration of our report and the debate today.
I want to draw on three of our visits, in particular, for my remarks: firstly, to our office in Brussels and the activity around that, second to the Basque delegation in London, and third to the Quebecois delegation in London. I went to our office in Brussels wondering if it needed significant change and a new focus in light of Brexit, thinking that what it would be doing would be very different in future, from outside the European Union, to what it had been doing within the European Union. I left thinking that the need for change was less radical than my initial presumption, and I think the reason for that was something that the Chair got over in his contribution—that what that office has been doing is largely an exercise in soft power. Now, there are certain hard diplomatic interfaces, most notably with EU funding that Wales has received, also, to at least some degree, our position that we've had within the Committee of the Regions. However, most of the work of that office has been making friends, building connections, reaching out, finding people to work with Wales on our agenda. And I think a lot of that focus and that skill set will be the same post Brexit as it has been before, and I think we really did notice, both from the delegation itself, but also talking to a number of other people, such as the Confederation of British Industry in Brussels, the extent to which UKRep is having to change its focus from the hard diplomacy of speaking in plenary at a council meeting and voting in particular ways, to actually seeking to influence and build allies, and perhaps there should have been more of that before, but UKRep is having to change what it did and is looking to Wales, to be fair to the CBI and to some of the other larger private sector organisations, for how it adjusts its diplomatic representation to a world that will have a greater focus on soft power rather than institutional levers within the European Union.
I want to say a bit about the Basque and the Quebecois delegations, because I think they emphasise two types of what we might be trying to achieve for Wales through these international relations. The Basque approach was again—and this was a surprise to me—a very hard-edged economic approach, and it was connected with the economy Ministry and what it wanted to do is it wanted to increase Basque exports and it wanted to get more foreign direct investment coming into the Basque Country. They seemed to be its two main objectives. They were very well set up for doing it. It's a relatively well-off region within Spain, and they organise around that. And I think we need to consider is that what we want Wales to do, and, if so, our officers need to be in places that are larger sources of foreign direct investment, areas that are growing strongly or where there is a particular appetite for potential Welsh exports.
The second model I think was exemplified by Quebec more. There was also an economic aspect, and that aspect, I think, fitted quite well into what Canada was doing through its high commissioner, and there were very close relations. There was also this desire to promote Quebec from a perspective of its culture and its language, and also, I think, education. And what the structure was to do that and where it did that, it was more separate from Canada than it was on the economic aspects. And I think we need to think is that what we're trying to do as Wales: is it our particular culture? Is it the Welsh language? Is it education, perhaps sport? Are there particular things about Wales we want more people across the world to understand and know about and that we want to go out there and project? And I think we need to really understand the balance between that economic and that more cultural objective.
What I don't think we should be doing is simply trying to find other sub-state actors that we want to spend time with and be more like and 'we've got to have those connections'. I think there may be some of those connections, and, if you are a party that wants Wales to be independent, then you may want to spend time with those contacts, developing those relationships with other parties in sub-state nations that also want to break apart from those nations. But I don't believe that's what the Assembly as whole should be doing, and I would ask the Welsh Labour Government to consider very carefully what are the objectives. And I think we learnt a lot from going to the Basque delegation and going to Quebec, but I don't see the primary objective of these international relations as sub-state nations who see an independent future, or particularly working with Catalonia because they want to go in a certain direction—or some people there. Devolution for us has been a trajectory and a dynamic process, whereas for many of these other sub-state actors, there is a settlement—in Quebec or the Basque Country—with which they're pretty happy. Yes, let's learn from them, but let's focus on what we want to do, how much is about the economy, and how much is about cultural projection.
I welcome the recommendations of this report in its entirety. I hadn’t yet joined the committee when the inquiry was being conducted, but I would like to praise this piece of work and the skilful leadership provided by the Chair, David Rees. In the report, we see comprehensive and detailed recommendations as to which steps could be taken to increase the role of Wales at an international level in the next few years. Ensuring such a strategy is more important than ever in the shadow of Brexit. I welcome the fact that the Government has accepted seven of the recommendations, but I’m disappointed that another four, which were drawn up carefully, have only been accepted in principle. Fellow Members in this Chamber have noted concerns in the past about the Government’s practice of agreeing in principle to recommendations, as the impact of this, if truth be told, is that the recommendations aren’t implemented.
Recommendation 5 calls on the Welsh Government to explore with the EU the possibility of Wales’s continued participation in European programmes that are undertaken in devolved areas, adding that this should be progressed urgently. The Government’s response is inadequate to this, because it agrees that the work needs to be done but doesn’t want to commit to do it before the end of the year. I would urge the Government to reconsider its response to this recommendation and to proceed with the work as a matter of urgency.
I will turn now to the response to recommendation 8, which calls on the Government to commission an independent baseline analysis of the operation of the Government’s overseas offices. The Government states that it is giving further consideration to this recommendation as the strategy is drawn up. Again, a comprehensive strategy should be in place before then. Almost three years has passed since the referendum and a month since the first departure date.
Recommendation 7 calls on the Government to draw up an action plan for engaging with the Welsh diaspora. The Welsh Government’s response doesn’t show much ambition and does not provide much detail as to which countries would be prioritised. The response insists, rather, that much is being done in this area already, which is true, but there’s always room for improvement. It’s disappointing that Government doesn’t have greater ambition in this area. The Government’s response also states that we can’t have a one-size-fits-all approach. That’s a valid point, and I do agree that we should have diverse plans that dovetail, rather than have a static, single approach. But the truth is that these plans don’t exist in sufficient detail at the moment.
The Welsh diaspora contributes so much to our nation, building bridges with people who represent us at a global level. The Government should provide a clear vision in developing that relationship with the Welsh diaspora rather than simply providing warm words. Brexit makes all of this urgent. We need clear, ambitious action now rather than dragging your feet. Will the Government therefore commit to drawing up a detailed plan to build bridges with the Welsh diaspora?
I would also like to know what the latest is in terms of the Government’s international strategy, Global Wales. A problem with the Welsh Government website means that it’s impossible to find details of this work online. It’s ironic—and quite Kafkaesque, really—that it’s impossible to find information about a strategy that seeks to look out to the rest of the world. May I ask, therefore, where the is Government with this work? What is the timetable for it? Which principles will drive the work and what will the remit be? And finally, when can we expect a statement to be made by the Minister in the Chamber in order to provide Members with an update?
It’s about time that Wales took its place in the world as a proud, modern nation that’s looking to the future. We should build bridges with other states and stateless countries, such as Catalunya, in order to place economic and cultural foundations that we can build on as our nation travels on the journey towards full autonomy. Wales has a bright future, but we must build it ourselves. Thank you.
Like others, I'd like to start my contribution this afternoon by thanking the clerking team of the committee, and also thanking David Rees for his leadership of the committee on these matters.
I also wish to follow others in welcoming the appointment of a Minister for international relations. I enjoyed the session we had, Minister, on 21 January and I hope we'll be able to return to some of those matters in due course. It's an irony indeed of course that this appointment in itself has highlighted the need for an international strategy that perhaps we didn't appreciate fully before. Also, it's brought into sharp focus the extent to which we rely on EU institutions for our international profile and creating a framework for our international work.
But, this afternoon, I'd like to persuade the Government of two matters. Firstly, the vision and the ambition that is required to maximise the potential of any international strategy. And second, to be able to hold the Government to account to ensure that we have the information, the targets and the ambition described in a way that enables us to understand what the Government seeks to achieve by such a programme.
Minister, in your response to the report, you described Wales as a European nation. Now, for much of our recent history, this would have been a contested description of our country, and it certainly remains a highly political description of our country. At one time—it takes us back, of course, to the days of Owain Glyndŵr and his seeking ambassadors from the papacy and elsewhere to recognise the state that he was seeking to create in our country at that time. But also, of course, because it defines Wales as a European nation without reference to the state of the United Kingdom,